The third day and second stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado is billed as the hardest, longest and highest of the race for good reason. Not only does the length and topography of the course present a challenge for riders, so too it does for weather forecasts covering such varying terrain and long distances.
Riders will depart Gunnison at 10:00am today and begin an ascent up a dirt road that takes them to 12,126 foot high Cottonwood Pass. A quick decent down the other side gives them a short break before another monster climb up Independence Pass to an altitude of 12,095 feet. The racers then will speed down into Aspen having covered 131.1 miles by the time they are done.
With Colorado’s weather varying greatly over short distances, let alone 131 miles and more than 4,000 feet in altitude difference, the weather forecast for the race is tricky.
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When the racers depart Gunnison they will find themselves under mostly sunny skies. Temperatures are going to be a relatively cool 63 degrees with no wind.
It will take them nearly an hour and a half to reach the base of Cottonwood Pass and begin the ascent on a dirt road. By this time clouds will be increasing and while that keeps the riders cool, it also begins to introduce the chance for thunderstorms.
The leaders are expected to reach the summit of Cottonwood Pass around noon or soon thereafter. At that high of altitude they will have only 60% of the air available to them that they would at sea level. Temperatures will be cool at over 12,000 feet as the mercury will only be at around 62 degrees. Winds will be light but they may find themselves with some light rain showers.
The 4,000 foot decent down into Buena Vista will be fast and take less than an hour. The lower altitude will diminish the threat of thunderstorms but also increase the temperatures as it will be about 81 degrees when they hit town.
As is normally the case, climbing will lead to decreasing temperatures and that will be the case with the climb up Independence Pass. As they summit riders will be greeted with temperatures in the low to mid-70s. There is a chance there will be some thunderstorms with brief, light rain at the top.
Down the riders will go again as they sprint into the shadow of the Maroon Bells and Aspen. Temperatures at the 7,900 foot finish line will be around 81 degrees with a chance for thunderstorm activity in the area.
All in all the day could present riders with as varied weather as it does terrain and topography. At the lower altitudes on the course temperatures will be mild and relatively calm. Higher altitudes will bring cool temperatures but also chances for thunderstorms.