Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera
Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera
The penultimate Stage 6 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Saturday was disguised as the Boulder Cycling Championships.
Boulder resident Rory Sutherland, a transplanted Australian riding for United Healthcare, climbed his way into the lead late as the 103-mile stage headed to an exhausting uphill finish on Flagstaff Mountain overlooking Boulder.
Sutherland, who won the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico this year for his domestic squad, passed Stage 4 hero Jens Voigt of Germany (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) on the final climb and held on for his fifth win of the season.
Fabio Aru of Italy (Astana) followed Sutherland across the finish line through the tight gauntlet of fans to take second place. Voigt, 40, finished third.
But defending USA Pro Challenge winner Levi Leipheimer of California did his best to spoil the Boulder homecoming party.
Leipheimer, steady and quiet through five stages of the 2012 tour, jumped out of his saddle and sprinted up the final kilometer of the trademark climb. His stunning move, which resulted in a fourth-place stage finish, also snatched the yellow leader’s jesey from incoming leader Tejay van Garderen of BMC and – you guessed it – Boulder.
One day after van Garderen said he was worried about Leipheimer, the 38-year-old from Santa Rosa, Calif., took the race lead by 9 seconds over Christian Vande Velde of Boulder-based Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda.
Van Garderen slipped to third in the overall standings, 21 seconds behind Leipheimer. Van Garderen is tied with the top young rider in the race, 21-year-old Joe Dombrowski of the Bontrager Livestrong development team.
Fort Lewis College graduate Tom Danielson, the Boulder cyclist who was fourth in the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, stands in 15th place overall after Saturday’s brutal stage that started in Golden.
Danielson, the record-holder for the famed climb up Flagstaff Mountain, is 1 minute, 18 seconds behind with only Stage 7 remaining, today’s 9.5-mile individual time trial in downtown Denver.
“I can’t take credit for planning it quite like that,” Leipheimer said after Saturday’s ride, which ended with a huge ovation by the thousands of fans who had hiked or biked up the steep five miles to the stage finish at the Flagstaff Ampitheater.
He said he’s pleased – but not comfortable – with his nine-second lead heading into today’s decisive time trial.
“I’m very motiviated,” said Leipheimer, 38, a native of Montana. “I’m proud to wear this (yellow) jersey.”
Leipheimer said circumstances forced his hand during the early stages of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge.
“I knew I had to save everything for the last two days,” said Leipheimer, who made his move when van Garderen did not follow a Dombroski attack on the 14-percent grade up Flagstaff.
Sutherland, for his part, shared his victory with his new hometown fans in the Boulder area.
“It makes a huge difference knowing the climbs,” Sutherland said with his Aussie accent intact.
Calling it his biggest career victory, the 30-year-old Sutherland said he got “goosebumps” riding through his adopted hometown. He first moved here in 2007.
“It’s really helped me,” said Sutherland, who won the opening stage of the Tour of Utah this year. “I think ... it’s one of the heartlands of cycling. I love living here. My family thrives here ... and look at the terrain and the beauty.”
Sutherland is one of 18 Boulder-area cyclists in the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. There are 22 Colorado riders in the field.
Sutherland said a number of the Boulder-area riders pedaled together for the first pass through their city.
There was Chris Baldwin of Bissell Pro Cycling, Alex Howes of Garmin and Timmy Duggan of Liquigas, who lives in Nederland.
Duggan, the U.S. road racing champion, led the early breakaway through his hometown of Nederland, where he is building a new home.
Janez Brajkovic, a Slovenian riding for Astana, often trains around Boulder.
“I had a terrible night’s sleep,” Sutherland said. “But for me personally, to win in my hometown ... I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Several second-generation Boulder cyclists raced in the field Saturday, including Taylor Phinney, the 22-year-old Olympian and son of cycling legends Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney of Boulder.
Peter Stetina of Garmin-Sharp also is a Boulder native, the son of Dale Stetina, who won the Coors Classic back in 1979 and 1983.
“When he was a little kid, he was scared to death of a bicycle,” said his mother, Anne, who served as a volunteer for Saturday’s stage.
Peter Stetina started mountain biking at age 11, and by age 13 he had ridden in the 24 Hours of Moab, she said.
“He transitioned to road racing at 15,” Anne Stetina said.
Stetina started on Jonathan Vaughters’ Slipstream development team and worked his way up to the Garmin varsity where he experienced Saturday’s mega crowds in Golden, Boulder and on Flagstaff Mountain.
“(Saturday) was unbelievable,” Leipheimer said. “Golden and Boulder, they came out and crushed it.”
He said Saturday’s route and the crowds made for a memorable cycling experience.
“(Saturday) was one of the most beautiful day’s I’ve seen in cycling,” Leipheimer said.
He’s hoping today will be equally beautiful – and productive.
Cliff Grassmick/ Daily Camera
Lewis Geyer/Daily Camera
Lewis Geyer/Daily Camera
Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald