Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Round 1 to Garmin.
The home-turf cyclists from Colorado-based Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, led by Fort Lewis College graduate Tom Danielson, pressed the pace and created chaos from the start Monday in the opening stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
After a long, tortuous, 100-mile breakaway that included four Garmin riders, the chasing peloton eventually gathered up Danielson and teammate Peter Stetina on the streets of Telluride, just two miles from the finish line.
But Garmin, the Boulder-based team that nearly collected a breakaway win from Danielson or Stetina, settled instead for a bunch sprint victory by teammate Tyler Farrar, an American sprinter who normally races in Europe.
“It almost worked,” Danielson said of his attack-attack-attack tactics Monday that started in Durango and continued all the way up Lizard Head Pass.
“I told everyone it would be a hard start, an opportunity for us to mess it up,” Danielson said. “Team director Charly Wegelius said, ‘Let’s take it to the race, cause a split, make some chaos.’ And it almost worked.
“I couldn’t help myself in the beginning,” Danielson said with a huge smile after he donned the King of the Mountain jersey as the top climber in the first stage.
Danielson said one of his first memories of road racing was the Squawker Classic in downtown Durango, sponsored by FLC.
That course, he said, included the familiar Front Hill climb to Fort Lewis College.
The rest of the USA Pro Challenge course outside Durango, Danielson said, retraced the route he used to take in the legendary “Tuesday Night Worlds” when he would chase Ned Overend and Todd Wells and other top riders to the top of Hesperus Hill.
“There was an opportunity (Monday) for us ... to create chaos,” said Danielson, who started a 12-rider breakaway on familiar territory just nine miles into the race as they started to climb up to Lake Nighthorse.
Within four more miles, the breakaway had grown to 22 cyclists, including Danielson and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale, who recently finished third in the Tour de France.
More importantly for Garmin, that breakaway included Danielson, Stetina and two more Garmin teammates – David Zabriskie and Lachlan Morton, the 20-year-old Australian who won the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race from Durango to Silverton this year.
“We had ... four riders. Everybody worked hard,” Danielson said of the break that gained a 5-minute edge on the chase group.
With the torrid 27-mph continuing, the cyclists pulled away on the section from Mancos to Dolores where Serghei Tvetcov of Team Exergy won the second Sprint Line competition. (Garmin’s Nathan Haas won the first Sprint Line in downtown Durango.)
From Dolores, the cyclists started the long, gradual climb past Stoner, Rico and up Lizard Head Pass.
Danielson, sensing another opportunity, jumped away from the breakaway, taking Nibali with him.
“It was cool to be out there with Nibali,” Danielson said.
But Nibali couldn’t keep pace on the climb, and Danielson found himself out front with Stetina, a Boulder native.
The two were the first to the top of the pass. And the Garmin teammates were first to the top of the climb at Alta.
“But it didn’t work out,” said Danielson, with reason: “We were too light (on the downhill into Telluride).”
The speeding peloton closed the gap, pulling the field together for the bunch sprint.
“It was a lot of fun. I haven’t had that much fun in a bike race in a long time,” said Danielson, who was forced out of the Tour de France after back-to-back crashes that caused back-to-back separated shoulders.
“We’ll try again (today),” he said after Monday’s stage that saw a Garmin stage win (Farrar), a Garmin win at the first Sprint Line (Haas), a Garmin rider in the most aggressive rider jersey (Stetina), a Garmin rider in the sprinter’s jersey (Farrar) and Danielson in the top climber’s colors.
“I really had to turn myself inside out to make it over (Lizard Head Pass),” said Farrar, a sprinter by trade who lives most of the year in Belgium.
“I knew (Monday) could possibly be a sprint, but I really wasn’t sure I had the legs to make it, so I’m pretty happy to pull it off,” said Farrar, originally from Washington state.
He said the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is a big race for Garmin because the team is based locally in Boulder.
“To win here is huge,” he said. “For me personally, I have had kind of a disaster of a season, so this means a whole lot to me to finally get a win.”
The stage victory was his first in more than a year.
Alessandra Bazzano of Italy (Team Type 1) finished second in the bunch sprint in downtown Telluride. Damiano Caruso, also of Italy, was third riding for Liquigas-Cannondale. Longtime U.S. sprint star Fred Rodriguez of Team Exergy finished fourth and Rory Sutherland, the top rider for UnitedHealthcare, fifth.
“The crowds were amazing,” said Bazzano, who previously lived and trained in Boulder.
Morning showers slowed the arrival of the crowd in Telluride, which was in full force by the finish time.
“The race was so organized,” Bazzano said. “I’m happy to be here.”
Danielson, too, was happy to be in Telluride and on the podium as the top climber on Day 1. He was even happier with the turnout of fans and friends in Durango, Telluride and atop Lizard Head Pass.
“I saw a lot of people at the start who were also at the finish,” said Danielson, explaining the cycling enthusiasm in his adopted hometown of Durango. “That shows the commitment of those people. I saw a lot of ... friends on Lizard Head.”
Shawn Hunter, the chief executive officer and main man behind the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, echoed Danielson’s comments in the postrace press conference in Telluride.
“Durango ... that was the best overall start for an American race that I’ve ever seen,” Hunter said.
Monday’s extreme pace, combined with the altitude and terrain, forced six riders out of the race from the original starting field of 123 cyclists.
The remaining riders will tackle Stage 2 today when they ride 99 miles from Montrose to an uphill finish at Mount Crested Butte.
While the wicked pace of Monday’s stage shocked many of the cyclists in the USA Pro Challenge, Monday night’s lodging also was a shocker for the cycling stars.
After spending several nights in the austere dormitory rooms at FLC, the cyclists spent Monday night in a five-star Telluride hotel. After that Stage 1 effort, Garmin deserved it.