The USA Pro Challenge, known for its aggressive racing and challenging courses, puts riders to the test each year as it winds its way through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Day after day of long, sustained climbs crush cyclists’ legs and squeeze their lungs as they hit mountain summits of up to 12,000 feet. Nothing in this race is easy; not even the one day of a tour that riders can usually count on for respite from the relentless climbing: the time trial.
This year’s inaugural Women’s USA Pro Challenge kicked off on the same day and with the same course as the men’s Breckenridge time trial. I was invited to race with a Colorado-based composite team for the weekend and to test myself against some of the best women in the sport. It was an offer hard to resist.
Starting at 9,500 feet in elevation in the mountain town of Breckenridge, the 8.5mi TT began with four miles of flat and fast roads with strong, gusty winds, before turning upwards to the Category 4 Moonstone Climb. Leading riders up and over 20 percent grades throughout the 1.5mi ascent, the road summited at just over 10,000ft before a technical descent dropped us back into town.
Not only was the TT course physically demanding with its monstrous climb and severe elevation; the equipment choices and decisions on bike setup were also challenging.
- The course: USA Pro Challenge Breckenridge Time Trial. An 8.5mi course with flat, fast sections as well as a serious climb and descent
- The equipment goal: An aerodynamic time trial set up that is super light and capable of steep mountain grades
- The horse: Cervélo P3 with Dash Aero 60 front wheel, PRO Textreme disc, and additional aero equipment
Slam that stem: Legan uses a sharply angled stem with the headset’s top cap removed to get her desired position
My USA Pro Challenge TT setup consisted of my personal Cervélo P3 time trial bike with a few modifications to help lighten the load for the hilly course. I swapped the stock 3T wheels for a lightweight Dash Aero 60 front wheel and PRO Textreme disc.
I customized the bike’s gearing with a 53/36 front chainring combination paired with an 11/28 cassette to accommodate both the flats and hilly sections of this course. For additional aerodynamic benefit, I wore a Pactimo Summit Speed skinsuit and Kask Bambino aero helmet, and used an Arundel Chrono II aero bottle and cage.
Related reading: SRAM wireless and other TT gear at the USA Pro Challenge
Eight miles full gas
Rolling into Breckenridge on race morning, I was surprised to learn that nearly half the women’s field had decided to race road bikes with clip-on aero bars. Even though the TT started out with several miles of flat and windy roads, the intimidating climb convinced these racers to reach for the lightest bike possible. However, the whole climb was only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long, and while it was quite steep in places, it wasn’t enough to sway me from a full time trial setup.
Instead of searching for the newest, flashiest time trial bike to test ride for the Pro Challenge, I chose to stick with my personal Cervélo P3. I’ve spent the past season working on this bike to find an aggressive and aerodynamic position without sacrificing power. Switching to something new several weeks before a big race rarely ends well and I was happy to be on a familiar bike, especially on the twisty and technical descent.
In the end, the Cervélo P3 was a great choice for this unusual TT course with all of its ups and downs. It helped cut through the gusty wind on the flat sections and wasn’t too sluggish on the climb either. While time trial bikes aren’t known for being featherweights, the P3 was surprisingly light at just over 18 pounds or 8.1 kg (size 54cm, full race setup including bottle and a disc).
I was hoping to make my rig even lighter with a svelte 810-gram Dash Gretchen disc to match my front Dash Aero 60 wheel. Unfortunately, there were no discs available to borrow from the Colorado-based company so I opted for a PRO Textreme disc. Heavier by nearly 200 grams, the PRO disc wasn’t the lightweight options I was hoping for, but the stiff and extremely aerodynamic wheel made for an excellent choice nonetheless.
Dash is a Colorado wheel company. This is the Aero 60
The next big change I made to my TT setup was in the bike’s gearing. For the flat first half of the race, a 54 or 55-tooth chainring would be ideal, particularly if there was a tailwind on the first slight downhill section. However, the steep climb could easy obliterate my legs and blow the race completely (along with the following two days of racing) if I didn’t have the right low gear options.
After calculating gear ratios for an assortment of different combinations I settled on 53/36 front chainrings and an 11/28 cassette. The 53 was a little smaller than I wanted, but I decided it could actually help limit my efforts so as not to ruin myself before the climb. Luckily, on race day we had a headwind on the downhill section of the course and I didn’t spin out with the 53 chainring like I had expected.
As for the 36-tooth small chainring, I should probably preface this with the fact that I am a spinner, or high-cadence climber. From experience, I know that I climb more efficiently when I can keep a steady rhythm rather than grinding out each pedal stroke at 30-40rpm. However, I may have gone a little too low with the 36/28 combo. It allowed me to bail out and spin up the steep pitches rather than stand up and dig to keep the pedals turning. But hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and even if the lower gears slowed me down a tad, they did help save my legs for the following two days of aggressive racing that was yet to come.
As a whole, the 53/36 chainring setup was a bit of a gamble, like any combination would have been. Had the winds been blowing in the opposite direction, my biggest gear would have been too small and my smallest gear might have been more appropriate. However, luck was with me this race so there were no last minute chainring swaps or gear choice panic attacks.
A 53/36 was a bit of a gamble
After deciding on these bike and component choices, the next details to mull over came with aero equipment and clothing. These are easy to overlook when gearing up for a TT, but they can be just as important when looking for extra watts or saved seconds. With this in mind, I sifted through an assortment of aero gear to find pieces that worked both with my physiology and that satisfied the UCI’s annoyingly strict set of time trial rules.
When it comes to aerodynamics of on-body equipment, the aero helmet is king. Typically, I wear a Bell Javelin helmet that has a long tail for optimal airflow over the back. However, with a leg-breaking climb halfway through the course, I strayed from my standard and gave the Kask Bambino Pro helmet a try.
With a ‘bobtail’ design, the Bambino was developed for a wide range of aerodynamic head positions. Traditional, long-tail helmets work great as long as you can keep your head in one very stable and usually uncomfortable position for the entire race.
Knowing that I’d be all over the place with my head and body swaying side to side on the climb, the Bambino’s range of head positions seemed like the better choice. In the end, whether or not it made much of a difference in time, the Bambino was exceptionally comfortable. It was light, easy to adjust, and had a snazzy leather buckle strap that kept everything neatly tucked away for optimal aerodynamics.
For an aero bottle, I selected the Arundel Chrono II because it is UCI legal and more aerodynamic than a conventional bottle. While the Pro Challenge TT was too short to actually need a drink at all, this was a great course to test out the Chrono II because of the technical corners and bumpy roads.
I’ve lost more aero bottles than I can count from sketchy railroad crossings or rough road surfaces. However, the Chrono II bottle and bottle cage system worked well and was the most secure pairing I’ve ever seen for an aero bottle. It is a bottle I will most certainly use in the future for longer time trials.
A hose clamp narrows the frontal width of the ISM Adamo Prologue’s split nose
Turning to clothing, I was impressed with the Pactimo Summit Speed skinsuit’s tight but comfortable fit. The skinsuit hugged all the right places and kept the material from bunching up when I was in the TT position.
Although Pactimo only offers unisex skinsuit options, the chamois was comfortable and the arms and legs fit relatively well on all of my female teammates. Full disclosure, Pactimo was a team sponsor, but the skinsuit worked great and I was happy to find a kit that fits so nicely from top to bottom.
All in all, I’m quite happy with my equipment choices for the USA Pro Challenge time trial. The bike’s aerodynamic details and climbing modifications helped me put together a strong race from start to finish that landed me a result smack in the middle of the pro field.
Sure, lighter wheels or different gear options might have helped me move up a few spots overall. But the weekend as a whole was a huge success. Racing the inaugural Women’s USA Pro Challenge was an incredible (and exhausting) opportunity to experience professional women’s cycling from inside the peloton.
It was also encouraging to see an established race like the Pro Challenge backing women’s racing and providing a well organized and professional race alongside the men’s tour. Hopefully, we’ll see the women back in action at next year’s race for another round of lung-busting climbs and tough, tactical racing in the Colorado Mountains.
Legan warms up for the Breckenridge time trial with her dog, Zeke, looking on