"Tour de Colorado" kicks off in Colorado Springs

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Patrick Gretsch of Germany riding for Team HTC-Highroad rides to first place in the prologue to earn the overall race leaders jersey in the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge on August 22, 2011. Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Move over Tour de France — there’s a new biking challenge out there, and on American soil. The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge kicked off Monday in Colorado Springs, the first city of a multi-city cycling race where 128 of the world’s best cyclists compete for another shot of cycling glory — including Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, and his brotherly 2nd and 3rd place adversaries Andy and Frank Schleck. Naturally, cities aren’t the highlight of the cycling tour’s terrain; in Colorado it’s all about the mountainous Rockies and all their steep ascents and treacherous downhills. And with elevation, Colorado challenges cyclists with a breath of thin air; it’s the highest cycling race ever, meaning cyclists should not only condition their leg muscles, but their lungs to acclimate to the high altitudes — over 12,000 ft. above sea level at two different passes on the third day, from Gunnison to Aspen.

The six-day event started with a prologue in Colorado Springs to introduce the 17 teams, all representing cyclists from around the world. The challenge continues in six more stages: Salida to Mount Crested Butte, Gunnison to Aspen, Vail (a time trial), Avon to Steamboat Springs, Steamboat to Breckenridge, and ending with a 73.8-mile leg from Golden to Denver for the finale. Spectators can watch not only from the roadside, but on television coverage on the Versus network and NBC, as well as the internet, where real-time stats of power output, speed, and heart rate are streamed live. [via The Adventure Blog]