This weekend’s broadcast of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge beamed images of some of the world’s best cyclists all over the world, and with it, the vistas of Estes Park.
“America’s Race” started in Aspen on Monday, August 19, and wound its way through the Rocky Mountains, including through Northern Colorado and Estes Park, on its way to the finale in Denver. Race organizers boasted 200 nations and territories saw the race in its 600-plus mile journey through the state.
By the time the race reached Estes Park on Saturday, August 24, 114 out of the original 128 riders remained. Altitude seemed to be the biggest challenge to riders used to high points of 7,000 feet. Joe Dombrowski was looking forward to competing in the US with the support of Tour de France winner Chris Froome. Froome only arrived three days ahead of the start and suffered throughout the week of racing. Dombrowski developed a nose bleed, a condition he had suffered as a child. The bleed hadn’t stopped after two stages, forcing the young American to drop out.
Slovak sprinter and Tour de France Points champion Peter Sagan arrived two weeks ahead of the race in an attempt to acclimates. It seemed to pay off. Sagan nabbed the first stage win after a three circuit ride of almost 64 miles from Aspen to Snowmass and back.
The second stage began in aspen and quickly took the riders to dizzying heights, climbing first over Independence Pass, the Hoosier Pass and finally the short but steep Boreas Pass before plunging into Breckenridge. The 126.1-mile stage was battled out between BMC’s Mathias Frank, Garmin-Sharp’s young Australian Lachlan Morton and, surprisingly, big Peter Sagan.
Frank and Morton sparred for most of the day in the front breakaway before Frank was able to attack and make a gap on the last few yards of the Boreas Pass climb. Morton stayed close behind but could not catch the Swiss climber. Morton was able to hold of Sagan who showed impressive strength in ascending the last climb in enough time to nearly catch Morton on the run into Breckenridge.
“The altitude is the biggest difference,” said the stage winner, Frank. “In the Alps you finish at the altitude we’re already at (to start) here.”
Sagan would lose the Smashburger leaders’ jersey by 11 seconds, but it was Morton, not the stage winner Frank, who would wear the golden fleece to Steamboat Springs on Stage 3.
The third stage headed north out of Breckenridge on a 106-mile route that saw the race’s elder statesman, German RadioShack rider and fan favorite Jens Voigt, spend most of the day driving the break. Voigt and four other rider, none of whom threatened the overall standings, raced away from the pack over the day’s first climb, Swan Mountain, and stayed away, working together nearly to the foot of the day’s big climb.
Just shy of the Rabbit Ears Pass climb, the 41-year-old Voigt pulled away from the rest of the breakaway, much like he had done to take a stage win in last years Pro Challenge. Voigt lead the race over the KOM point on the pass and down the west side. Team Cannondale was not going to make it easy, however.
Peter Sagan’s squad, with help from Argos-Shimano and Optum-Kelley Benefits, swallowed up the flagging breakaway, leaving the veteran, Voigt, alone in the lead. With a long, flat final six miles, the peloton reached speeds of 40 mph, catching the German nearly within sight of the finish.
“I was disappointed,” said Voigt. “But I’d rather get caught then get in a crash.”
Shortly after the catch, with about two miles to go, wheels touched and several riders went down. Some went to the hospital, the most rolled across the line. Those who were caught behind the crash were awarded the same time as the winner, as the crash occurred so close to the finish.
At the finish, it was again the Terminator, Peter Sagan, who collected the win, beating Luka Mezgec of Argos-Shimano.
Stage four was marked by the organization as the Queen Stage. The route took riders 103 miles, but included the long steep climb of Bachelor Gulch.
“That thing (Bachelor Gulch) is incredible,” exclaimed King of the Mountains contender Matt Cooke of the Jamis-Sutter Homes team. “I’m just impressed that anyone can ride up that pretty fast. It was steep and one heck of a course.”
The climb blew the peloton apart. Groups of two and three remained after Colombian rider Janier Acevedo of Jamis followed Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson, Tejay van Garderen and Matias Frank of BMC as they chased down a solo break by Mick Rodgers of Saxo-Tinkoff. Rogers had been the lone survivor of the early break, but was caught and dropped by the elite riders.
In the end, Acevedo and Colorado native van Garteren worked together to drop Danielson and cross the line in Beaver Creek. Acevedo got the stage, but van Garteren got the yellow jersey.
Van Garteren tightened his grip on the leaders’ jersey in the next day’s individual time trial on Vail Pass. The ten-mile route saw van Garteren take out the win in yellow, just four seconds ahead of Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky.
The sixth stage from Loveland to Fort Collins would be the only real chance for anyone to catch the young Fort Collins native, van Garteren. While a large, 15-man break got away early and carried a 2-minute lead over the climb of Devils Gulch and into Estes Park, Sagan’s Cannondale squad came to the fore and crushed all hope of a breakaway win. After a few scares on the climbs around Horsetooth Reservoir, Sagan roared across the finish line on Mountain Avenue in Old Town, his third sprint victory and the last he needed to secure the Points Category win.
In Denver, riders got a break from climbing, ascending and descending only 30 feet for each of the eight circuits from the Capitol Building on Broadway and Colfax, east to City Park, back to Speer Blvd, then back to the Civic Center Park.
A breakaway formed early and was again chased down by Team Cannondale, giving Sagan his fourth win in seven stages. Van Garteren finished safely in the pack to claim the overall victory. The win was van Garteren’s second major stage race GC victory this season, after May’s Tour of California.
Sagan easily took home the green Clif Bar Points jersey. Matt Cooke won the Nissan King of the Mountains competition. Early race leader Morton won the Colorado State University Best Young Rider competition and Ben King of RadioShack-Leopard Trek won the FirstBank Most Aggressive Rider jersey for his efforts throughout the race.
At the end of the podium presentations, Christian Vande Velde was given special recognition as the USAPCC was his final pro American race. Vande Velde will retire at the end of the season after a carreer stretching back to 2008.
All images copyright Walt Hester Photography. Visit WaltHester.com to see all images from stages 6 & 7 of the 2013 USA Pro Cycling Challenge
For more on the race, go to usaprocyclingchallenge.com
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.