Finishing 12th overall, Damiano Caruso was Liquigas-Cannondale's top finisher. Photo: Liquigas
A quick look at the final standings of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge reveal a race that was largely dominated by American racers. Though half of the 16 teams in the race were UCI Pro Tour or other international teams, six of seven stages and seven of the 10 GC spots went to U.S. riders. Those skewed results partly reflect Americans' motivation to win on home turf, though that's not the whole story since teams with U.S. sponsors, such as Radioshack and Liquigas-Cannondale, underperformed in spite of the same incentives. Seeing Cadel Evans off the back on the mountainous Stage 3 and past Tour hopefuls like Roman Kreuziger and Ivan Basso well down the final standings (33rd and 76th, respectively), I wondered why Europeans hadn't done better and what they thought of the race.
To find out, I spent the final day of the race with team Liquigas-Cannondale to get their perspective on the USAPCC. "It hasn't been as good a race as last year, but we did OK," said director sportif Stefano Zanatta. "Nibali tried many times, but he had no luck. In the end he's here preparing for the World Championships." Zanatta was referring to the team's top star, Vincenzo Nibali, who was arguably one of the most combative riders in the race by getting into and driving powerful breaks in nearly every stage but came up short of a stage win each time.
"Partly it's a change in mentality," Zanatta went on to explain. "For Europeans, it used to be that races in the U.S. weren't important. But now, with the Tour of Colorado and the Tour of California, we see that there is good television coverage and many fans. It's a real shift, so we have to change our attitudes." He went on to praise the USAPCC for the well-organized and well-attended race they'd created. "Even in most stages of the Giro d'Italia we wouldn't have this many people come out to see a race," he exclaimed. "It's really incredible."
I also spoke with Damiano Caruso, one of Liquigas' rising Italian stars and, finishing 12th overall, the team's highest GC finisher. Like Zanatta, Caruso was effusive in his praise for the race. "The turnout is truly strong," he said. "The attention that people give is just incredible." He compared the race to some of the more difficult week-long stage races in Europe, especially the mountainous Vuelta al Pais Vasco. "The climbs here aren't so hard as in the Pais Vasco, not as steep," he explained. "But they are very, very long." Caruso said that he was satisfied with his performance but that the results had to be understood in one important context. "The main problem for me and for most Europeans is the altitude. This makes it very difficult to be competitive here," he said. "Normally I live at sea level, so racing at 3,800 meters isn't easy."
So will Caruso return next year? "I would love to," he said. "But if I come next year, I want to come earlier before the race, more than a week, so I can acclimatize to the altitude."