I’m running behind, but having fun. At’s been several weeks since the USA Pro Challenge but I have several images still. Some don’t have Jens Voigt in them. Can you get this close to pros in any other sport? Not likely. We, the adoring fans, can also enjoy riding on more or less the same course as the heroes. I don’t get to play hockey in the Pepsi Center. My tennis fan friends don’t get to play center court at Wimbledon. I have actually touched these guys, as well as having ridden some of the same roads.
So, without further delay. . .
German and man of the world, Jens Voigt, receives a send-off worthy of a king from fans before the start of Sunday’s final stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Boulder, Colorado. After 18 professional racing seasons, 17 Tours de France and countless souls crushed, Voigt hung up his race wheels for the last time after Sunday’s race finish.
So the USA Pro Challenge is set to start today with the circuit between Aspen and Snowmass. The stage was so popular last year that the organizers brought it back this year. While that returned this season, at least one fixture of the peloton won’t be back next year.
Lunchbox-hero Jens Voigt will ride one last race, the Pro Challenge, then hang up his bike as a pro. The Jensie grew up in the old East Germany and has been a pro since 1997 and has worn the coveted yellow jersey of the Tour on two occasions. Two years ago, Jens won an epic breakaway stage from Aspen, over Independence Pass and all the way into Beaver Creek.
Jens has made his career sacrificing for his team leaders. This, and his easy-going personality, has made him a world-wide fan favorite. No one attacks more. No one suffers better. No one stands around and chats with fans quite as much as Jensie.
Good luck this week and enjoy your time with the family in retirement. And thanks for the memories.
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
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.
The USA Pro Challenge is bearing down on us like a bunch sprint. But why should they have all the two-wheeled fun? There are plenty of events going on around the event before the pro men come storming through.
This Sunday, August 4, the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bicycle Tour climbs up a portion of the Pro Challenge route and spends the night in Estes Park. The week-long ride is like Ride the Rockies, only smaller and tougher.
Tour director Peter Duffy made a conscious effort to keep the ride to a more manageable 500 riders, as opposed to RTR’s 2,000-plus. The ride is also 469 miles in just six days of riding. There are several challenging climbs along the way, including a triple day that takes riders from Golden to Fraser over Lookout Mountain, Juniper pass and Berthoud Pass. Riders have an option to through in Mount Evans to make the day a century if they really want.
The ride begins and ends in the Loveland-Fort Collins area and stops in Estes Park, Golden, Fraser, Steamboat Springs, Walden and back to Fort Collins. While it’s too late to sign up for it this year, keep it in mind for next summer. Go to crmbt.com to learn more.
Next Sunday, August 11, the Larimer County organizers behind our leg of the Pro Challenge are staging a ride out of Fort Collins called the Larimer County Pro Challenge Experience. The event features three rides all starting at the New Belgium Brewery; 32, 50 and 108 miles. The 108-mile ride features a timed ascent to Red Feather Lakes. First over the top, the King and Queen of the Mountains receive an entry in the amateur time trial up Vail Pass before the Pro Challenge stage 5 on Friday, August 23.
Both rides are fully supported with SAG wagons and aid stations. Ride gear is also available for both, if you really want to look like you belong there. The Pro Challenge Experience has a rider expo at the start/finish line.
On the day of the Loveland to Fort Collins stage, the Fort Follies women’s cycling team will host the Women’s Grand Prix race for Pro/Cat. 1-2 women on the finishing circuit of the stage. The day begins with a Ride with a Pro event, encouraging women of all ages and abilities to take a ride with the pro women. That starts at 8 a.m. in Old Town Fort Collins, anding at a supporting coffee shop. Beginning at noon, the women throw down, racing the finishing circuit in a criterium until 12:50. See how hard and fast the women race as they compete for sprints, the best young rider competition, as well as the final race win. Having seen a women’s crit before, I can say you might be surprised how fast these ladies go.
No matter what your fancy, the weeks leading up to the USA Pro Challenge will offer plenty for the amateur rider to enjoy. Don’t just sit on the couch waiting for the pros, get out and participate.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding.