Alex Fenlon/Crested Butte News
Alex Fenlon/Crested Butte News
MOUNT CRESTED BUTTE
Round 2 to BMC.
BMC, with an assist to the delegation from Colombia.
Tejan van Garderen of Boulder and the BMC team sneaked away from the chase peloton late and executed a perfect uphill attack to win the dramatic second stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Tuesday afternoon.
Van Garderen, the leading American rider in the recent Tour de France, and the main peloton caught the early breakaway group less than a mile from the Mount Crested Butte resort finish line.
The 24-year-old jumped the leaders, including Rafael Infantino Abreu, a climbing Colombian on the Colombian-based EPM-UNE team who had helped drive the breakaway all day.
Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, the team that pressed the pace in Monday’s opening stage from Durango to Telluride, followed van Garderen past the leaders, and the two dueled up the final steep ramp at the close of the 99-mile stage, which started Tuesday morning in Montrose.
Vande Velde, a veteran of scores of international races, stayed right on van Garderen’s rear wheel until he launched himself alongside the lanky van Garderen with 200 meters to go.
But van Garderen turned back the charge, pushed ahead and raised his arms as he crossed the finish line in his BMC colors.
“This is my first road stage win as a professional,” van Garderen said. “I’ve been counting. I think I’m up to eight second places, some thirds, fourths.”
He said the day started like Monday’s stage with a strong breakaway with “some big names.”
“We were lucky to get Mathias Frank in there. He’s a really strong climber and (general classification) rider,” van Garderen said of his Swiss teammate in the early 12-rider break. “It kind of took the pressure off the team for the day.”
The result was a peloton that trailed the chase group by up to 7 minutes at one point on the run to Blue Mesa Reservoir.
But just like Monday, the closing peloton eventually caught the leaders in the closing miles.
“It all worked out,” van Garderen said. “I wasn’t overconfident going into the last 4K that I would win. I just knew I was going to try.”
But Vande Velde, riding with the Garmin team that dominated Monday’s stage, stood in the way.
“When I looked over my shoulder and saw Christian, I thought, ‘Man, he’s in the perfect position.’ But at this elevation (9,300 feet), I think he had trouble with acceleration.”
Van Garderen had no such trouble, capturing the stage win and throwing the overall standings into instant chaos – a theme for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Van Gardenen assumed the overall tour lead and donned the yellow jersey after winning in Mount Crested Butte. He also won a custom-made pair of skis for his ski town victory.
Vande Velde is second overall in the GC but with the same time as the leader. He finished second overall last year.
“The team is ultra-motivated,” Vande Velde said. “We’ve animated the race the first two days, and we hope to continue to do so as the week goes on.”
Russian Ivan Rovny, riding on the Russian team Rusvelo, was third in Tuesday’s stage and third overall (6 seconds back). He finished 11th overall last year in the inaugural USA Pro Challenge.
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer of California and the Omega-Pharma team is fourth overall after finishing fourth in the stage that he won a year ago.
Fort Lewis College graduate Tom Danielson of the Garmin team, who rode in the main peloton most of the day, charged late to finish sixth in the stage. He’s 11th overall but only 12 seconds out of the lead.
“It was a good day,” Danielson said through his team after Tuesday’s stage.
“I really felt strong (Tuesday) especially after (Monday’s) performance. I always suffer on this climb (to Mount Crested Butte), so I’m happy to have it past me and move on to the parts of the race I like the most.”
Danielson nearly won Monday’s opening stage, but he and teammate Peter Stetina were caught in Telluride close to the finish in a preview of Tuesday’s stage finish.
Van Garderen said he expects the race to follow the attacking pattern that was established Monday morning in Durango.
“I think with the layout of the course, it’s not going to calm down at all,” van Garderen said. “The dirt-road climb (Cottonwood Pass to 12,126 feet) ... we rode it easy last year. But there could be some big drama if they go up that thing (fast).”
Then, van Garderen said, there is Independence Pass (12,095) where more attacks will follow.
“And it’s a hairy run into the finish (in Aspen),” he said, looking ahead to today’s 130.6-mile Silver Queen Stage from Gunnison to Aspen.
“Right now, there are no big time gaps,” van Garderen said of the GC leaders and the tense racing to come.
“The thing is, last year when Leipheimer won this day, the very next day, I took the (yellow) jersey from him,” van Garderen said. “Then, the day after, he took the jersey back.”
This year’s race, he said “is certainly not over.”
The race almost ended Tuesday for young Australian cyclist Lachlan Morton, who was called up to the Garmin varsity squad for the second annual USA Pro Challenge.
The 20-year-old won the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race from Durango to Silverton this year, matching the feat of teammate Danielson and team manager Jonathan Vaughters.
But Morton was involved in a crash with about 3 miles to go in Tuesday’s stage.
“I didn’t actually hit the ground,” Morton said. “Someone crashed into my back wheel with about 5 kilometers to go when the gas was on.”
Knocked off his bike, Morton said he tried to scramble back.
“It was a shame. I was in good position to help out the guys. I got back, but I couldn’t get to the front to help them,” Morton said.
Morton was thrilled to get the call to race in the USA Pro Challenge alongside legends such as George Hincapie, Jens Voigt, Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali, as well as his Garmin-Sharp teammates.
“It’s an honor to race against these guys,” Morton said with an accent that matches Evans, his Australian brethren.
“I can really learn a lot. I’m just trying to keep my eyes open and help out where I can.”
Alex Fenlon/Crested Butte News