Jens Vougt spent all but 8.5 miles out in front of Wednesday’s 106-mile stage from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs. Unfortunately for the 41-year-old German, he was not in the lead for the last 1.5 miles. Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, once again, flashed across the line saluting the crowd for his second stage win of the week.
“I was dissapointed and said ‘dammit’”, said Voigt, a fan favorite rider for RadioShack. “I was just a little bit mad with the world in general, but it could have been worse – it’s better than being in a crash.”
The attacks began early, though none stuck until the fan-lined Swan Mountain climb, about seven miles in. Cannondale’s Ted King managed to escape the pack, followed by Matt Cook of Jamis-Hagens Berman and RadioShack’s Voigt. Joshua Edmond (Sky Pro Cycling), Tyler Wren (Jamis) and Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly) joined the first threesome as they charged through the Silverthorn sprint point.
On the long road to Rabbit Ears Pass, the escape group, Voigt, Edmond, Tvetcov, Wren and Cannaondale’s Davide Villella gained a gap of up to five minutes before the peloton started reeling them back in. At that point, with 32.6 miles left and the start of the last climb just ahead, the race’s oldest athlete, Voigt, took off, leaving his younger rivals to be swallowed up by the pack.
Voigt went over the KOM point alone and started down the west side of the Rabbit Ears Pass with a 2:40 lead over the peloton, but Sagan put his squad on the front, and got a little help from Argos-Shimano to chase the solo break. It took the pack a 40-mph effort to catch Voigt, nearly within sight of the finish line.
Shortly after the pack overtook Voigt, a touch of wheels resulted on a pile-up, sending several riders to the hospital. As a result, those who were effected, but still finished, were given the same time as Sagan.
Within the last 100 yards, Sagan again catapulted around his rivals to claim his second stage. He was followed by Luka Mezgec of Argos Shimano, and Ryan Anderson of Optum.
“I’m very happy about my stage win today and I want to thank all my teammates because they did great work,” Sagan said after the win. “For now I feel good and think I can do well on these climbs.”
With the win, Sagan added to his lead in the Cliff Bar Points competition, allowing the charismatic Slovac to keep the green jersey. Matt Cook’s efforts over Swan Mountain and Rabbit Ears Pass allowed him to keep the red Nissan King of the Mountains jersey.
Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) retains the SmashBurger leader’s jersey, as well as the CSU Best Young Rider jersey. Voigt’s long, hard effort was rewarded with the FirstBank Most Courageous Rider jersey.
Sky Pro Cycling rider Joe Dombrowsky had problems with nose bleeds during stage two and did not start stage three.
Thursday will see the race head back south on a 103-mile stage from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek. Riders will face the new climb of Bachelor Gulch, nearly 18 miles with ramps of up to 18 percent, before facing the short, difficult climb into Beaver Creek.
Mathias Frank of BMC Racing has not claimed a lot of wins in his pro career, just five since 2008, but on Tuesday’s Queen stage of the USA Pro Challenge the Swiss youngster attacked on the shortest climb. The tough climbing stage from Aspen to Breckenridge was won on the short, steep final climb of Boreas Pass.
“It was a really tough day, especially with the altitude,” said Frank. “The stage win was the most important thing for me.”
Frank bridged up to a small group of leader before the last climb, a 15 percent pitch, in which only Garmin-Sharp’s Lachlan Morton could follow. With so many riders on the same time, Frank needed five seconds over the rest of the field to take yellow, but only beat Morton by three seconds. Garmin-Sharp’s 21-year-old American donned the leaders jersey to start Wednesday’s stage.
The second stage of the Pro Challenge was a 126.1-mile climbers’ fest, ascending some 12,250 feet over three passes. The fun started almost right out of the gate, climbing the category one Independence Pass, 13.7 miles from Aspen to the 12,095-foot summit. BMC’s Michael Schar attacked on the climb and was eventually joined by KOM leader Matthew Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly) before crossing the races highest point. The group built a lead of five minutes before streaking down the east side.
The high pass was the end for two riders, Peter Kennaugh of Team Sky and JJ Haedo of Jamis. Both riders stepped off their bikes before reaching the peak of the first pass.
The team of Points leader Peter Sagan lead the chase to bring back the three escapees as the pack approached the second category Hoosier Pass. By the time the peloton was halfway across South Park, they had nailed back three minutes, narrowing the gap to 2:25. RadioShack joined the chase and the peloton swept up the break away near Fairplay.
Once the second climb started, the counter attack began. Fiteen riders, including Frank, Morton, as well as RadioShack’s Andy Schleck. The group only mustered 1:40 at the start of the Hoosier Pass. Morton attacked on the slope, separating himself from the group. Schleck tried to bring him back, but failed. Over the top, Morton was alone and had two minutes over the chase group of Saxo-Tinkoff’s Michael Rogers, Frank and Livestrong rider Lawson Craddock.
Morton continued pushing on the descent, but was caught by Frank and Craddock. The trio worked together at that point to hold the chase at bay, 45 seconds ahead of the chase on the way to Moonstone Drive and the final climb of Boreas Pass.
Schleck and the rest of the chase was pulled back into the main peloton in the race’s first pass through Breckenridge, with about 34 miles to race. The leading trio, however, managed to build a lead of 1:15 just 1,200 yards shy of the Boreas Pass summit. Garmin-Sharp and the Colombia team took up the chase as they headed up the last leg-breaking ascent.
Frank bolted away from his compatriots inside of the last mile up Boreas Pass. The move doomed Craddock. Morton followed Frank, but also lost contact just short of the summit.
The race’s most consistant, and on this stage, most surprising rider, Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, launched out of the pack just 900 yards short of the summit of the last climb, dragging BMC’s Tejay van Garderen with him. Five more seconds behind, Garnmin’s Tom Danielson and Colombia’s Darwin Atapuma tried to bridge to the chase group.
“It was just a crazy race all around, hard to predict and hard to control,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “When Sagan went, I saw Danielson was struggling and I said ‘let’s do this’”
With just a mile left, Sagan and van Garderen caught Craddock. Ahead of them, however, Frank was drilling it to stay away and eventually claim the second stage. Frank coasted across, hitting a bodybuilder’s pose as he stopped the clock at 5:05:19.
Morton followed close behind to claim both the leaders yellow jersey and the Best Young Rider jersey. Sagan came across the finish line 14 seconds back, in third place, retaining his Points Leader green jersey. Sagan is third overall, only 11 second behind Morton in the GC.
Jamis-Hagen Berman’s Matt Cook hangs on to the King of the Mountains jersey, six points ahead of Garmin’s Morton. At just two stages in, BMC is the best team, 21 seconds ahead of Garmin-Sharp.
Of the big favorites, BMC’s van Garderen is in fourth at 11 seconds back. Garmin-Sharp’s Danielson is 29 back, in sixth. Saxo-Tinkoff’s Rory Sutherland is 41 seconds back in 13th. American Joe Dombroski, the de facto leader of Team Sky, is 1:04 back in 26th. The team’s Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, is suffering at altitude, some 16:08 back and about mid-pack at 76th place.
Wednesday take the riders out of Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs. The third stage is 106.6 miles with 5,865 feet of climbing, mostly on the climb up the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass. The pass is long, but not too steep. A break could get away on the roads leading to the climb, but with 20 more miles into Steamboat after the summit, it is unlikely a break will hold off Cannondale and their sprinter, Sagan.
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.