Peter the Great begins the USAPC with a win.
Cannondale’s Peter Sagan through kisses at the Aspen crowd, then regaled them with a wheelie after winning the first stage of this year’s USA Pro Challenge. Sagan, replete in the new black Cannondale jersey, came around BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet with 100 meters to the line and easily put a bike length between himself and his Belgian rival.
“I think I did good work in two weeks in Aspen,” said the Slovak national champion.
Many of the riders came to Colorado early in an attempt to acclimate to the races high altitude. Most of the race will be spent at higher altitude than the highest climbs of this year’s Tour de France.
The day started with a three-man break. Matt Cook (Jamis-Hagen Berman), Craig Lewis (Champion Systems), and Ian Burnett (Jelly Belly) charged out to get some TV time for their sponsors at only six miles into the 64.8-mile circuit stage from Aspen to Snowmass and back. The pack did not show much interest in the break until the return to Aspen on the last lap. Sagan’s Cannondale team did the bulk of the work to real in the break, as no team wanted to help hand the charismatic sprinter his first win. As it turned, Cannondale and Sagan didn’t need anyone else.
One surprise came as the peloton began to wind up their chase. Tour de France champion Chris Froome was ejected out the back, along with several of his team mates. Froome only arrived on Wednesday from a series of exhibition races in Europe and was unprepared for the 6,000-plus feet of altitude on stage one.
At the end, Sagan crossed first, followed by Van Avermaet and American Kiel Rejmen of United Healthcare Systems. Of the General Classification contenders, Tejay Van Gardener of BMC placed fifth and Tom Danielson of Garmin-Sharp placed ninth, all on the same time of 2:26:00.
Sagan will begin Tuesday’s stage wearing the leader’s yellow jersey, but also leads in the Cliff Bar Points Classification (Green Jersey) and the Colorado State University Best Young Rider competition (Blue Jersey). Matt Cook (Jamis) took the King of the Mountains jersey (KOM) and break-away mate Craig Lewis was awarded the Most Aggressive Rider jersey (Orange Jersey).
Sagan will test his high-altitude fitness on Tuesday as the race hits the highest point of any pro race, the daunting Independence Pass. The race heads out of Aspen and immediately begins the race’s biggest climb, 15 miles, 4,000 vertical feet to the 12,096-foot summit. Then they bomb down to US Hwy 24 before looping around and past the highest range in Colorado, before heading over Hoosier Pass, 11,500 feet, and into Breckenridge. The course is 126 miles and could be won either by a break or by a climber. It is not likely that the big bodies, like Sagan, can hang on for this stage.