After lurking quietly, a few seconds behind the leaders, Tejay van Garderen took huge time and a big step toward taking two big US races in one season. The Colorado native rode today’s Vail Pass time trial like the mature pro he is growing to be. After red-lining and blowing up two years ago, van Garderen rode the TT in a manner that was both calculated and crushing.
Van Garderen took control of the Smashburger leaders’ jersey on Thursday’s stage in which he attacked with Colombian climber Janier Acevedo of Jamis-Hagens Berman up Bechalor Gulch. Today, on the climb up Vail Pass, van Garteren hung 1:02 on rival and fellow Coloradan Tom Danielson and 1:17 on Lachlan Morton, tightening his grip on the yellow jersey.
The famous 10-mile route starts in Vail and averages about two percent until riders get out of town, then tilts up to five percent and stays there for most of the climb. Levi Leipheimer set a course record when they road here in 2011, paving the way to his Pro Challenge overall victory. Van Garderen may repeat the feat.
Van Garteren smashed the course record, crossing the line in 25:01.94. Garmin Sharp rider Andrew Talansky had held the lead and the record for a while until van Garderen, the last to leave the start house, finished his ride.
“It was certainly a tough effort,” explained van Garderen in the post-race press conference. “I don’t even know how to describe it. Up there, your lungs are searing in the thin air. You have to remind yourself that it’s okay. I was surprised that I got the stage win because I felt pretty bad coming in there at the end. Hopefully we can hold this jersey through Denver.”
Van Garteren holds the leaders’ jersey. BMC teammate Lawrence Warbasse took over the Best Young Rider on the Vail Pass, by four seconds over Swede Tobias Ludvigsson of Argos Shimano, and five seconds over former BYR Lachlan Morton. Matt Cook officially won the Nissan King of the Mountains jersey yesterday. He will be the KOM winner all the way to Denver on Sunday. Cannondale’s Peter Sagan hangs on to the Clif Bar Points jersey. That jersey may be decided on Saturday, but would take a major implosion or crash for Sagan to lose the green jersey.
Saturday’s sixth stage starts on the east side of Loveland, rides north on the east side of I-25 to Windsor for the first sprint of the day, before heading back south, then west for the second Clif Bar sprint in downtown Loveland. Soon after, the riders begin the long climb through the Big Thompson Canyon. About nine miles up the canyon, riders turn off of US 34 to follow the North Fork of the Big Thompson River to the feed zone in Glen Haven. For most of this time, riders are climbing grades between 4-6 percent. About a mile west of Glen Haven, the road take a sharp, rude pitch upward.
The Glen Haven Switchbacks a popular test for riders in the Northern Front Range. On Saturday, the 10 percent, 1.3-mile climb will be the final King of the Mountains points of the Pro Challenge.
The riders then spill into Estes Park for a loop around town, including the last Clif Bar Sprint Point right on Elkhorn Avenue in front of the town hall and Bond Park. The race heads toward Rocky Mountain National Park’s Headquarters, but turns short of the gate, heading south up the 7 percent grade of Mary’s Lake Road. The route traces the edge of the small lake before turning north on South Saint Vrain Avenue back toward downtown Eses Park. The riders turn right on Big Thompson Avenue to head east out of town and back down the Big Thompson Canyon. The run into Fort Collins will not be a freewheeling descent, however.
The race takes a familiar and popular route north from US 34 through Masonville to the climbs of Horsetooth Reservoir. The short, punchy, steep climbs may temporarily break up the peloton, but the hard men will have some time to regroup before the race blasts into Old Town.
The race comes into Old Town Fort Collins along Armstrong, before briefly turning north on Peterson, then sprinting for the finish on Mountain Avenue, just on the east side of College Avenue.
Peter Sagan will, again, be the man to beat on Saturday, though Danielson’s Garmin Sharp may try to reverse their current 1:42 deficit. It would take a monumental effort, however, especially with so much rolling and flat terrain toward the end of the stage.