Cover: Tejay Van Garderen, USA Pro Challenge 2014
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
The USA Pro Challenge 2014 covered 550 miles over seven-stage race as it made its way from Aspen through the Colorado Rockies, ending in downtown Denver with Tejay Van Garderen taking top honors in the race.
Stage 1: Aspen Snowmass circuit
Starting and finishing on Main street, the 128 riders navigated three laps of the route that wound its way out of Aspen, up to Snowmass Village, and back into in the well-known ski town.
The circuit included an intermediate sprint point in Aspen, a category 4 climb at Snowmass and another category 4 climb at McClain Flats, for a total of 2 intermediate sprints and 4 King of the Mountain points.
Soon after leaving the neutral zone, Danny Summerhill (United Healthcare) attacked and was soon joined by Joshua Berry (Team SmartStop), Ben Jacques-Maynes & Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Johnathan Freter & Luis Davila (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis), Greg Daniel (Bissell Development Team), and Lachlan Norris (Drapac Professional Cycling). Twenty kilometers into the race, the gap was 1 minute 30 seconds, with the sprinter teams keeping an eye on the eight escapees due to the shortness of the stage.
At the first crossing of the sprint point at the start/finish line, Summerhill took top points, Davila second and Daniel third. Norris took the maximum 4 points at the first KOM point at Snowmass, with Davila taking 3 points, and Jacques-Maynes was in third for 2 points.
At the McClain Flats KOM, Norris once again took top points, Jacques-Maynes crossed second and Cooke was third. As the group headed back to Aspen for the second sprint, Summerhill crossed first again, Freter second and Jacques-Maynes was third.
Heading into the final lap, the peloton began to close in, with the time gap falling to 35 seconds. As they moved inside the last 25 kilometers, Jacques-Maynes attacked the break, causing Summerhill to drop off, then Freter.
Jacques-Maynes took top points at both of the remaining KOMs, securing the overall King of the Mountains lead. As the peloton absorbed the remainder of the break, Jacques-Maynes held out as the sole survivor until Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) attacked, bridged to Jacques-Maynes, and then forged ahead solo. With 3 km to go, as Voigt fell back to the main field, and Javier Megias (Team Novo Nordisk) attacked.
Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare) and Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) gave chase, passing Megias, then battling it out to the finish where Reijnen took the win.
“Being good friends with Alex, I know his strengths and weaknesses. This course suits both of us. The good thing about being friends is that you know you’re committed. I could think of no one else I would rather lose to than Alex. I’m really happy he was on the podium with me.”
– Kiel Reijnen, United Healthcare
“I myself am a victim of the high altitude. It was pretty relaxed for the first third of the race, but that last lap really heated it up and it was just full gas from there on. You see a lot of punch and lift from riders toward the end, and that’s not really something you see at this kind of altitude. It’s pretty exciting to see that out here.”
– Alex Howes, Garmin-Sharp
“Some guys who were with me to chase back the front guys lost my wheel in the corner, so I was alone – about 20 or 30 meters from the first two guy. I came very close in the last corner to start the sprint, but I was completely blocked. At altitude, it is difficult to recover in one or two corners. So I could not sprint anymore.”
– Ben Hermans, BMC Racing Team
Reijnen will start stage 2 in the yellow leader’s jersey with no time gap over Howes and 3 seconds ahead of Hermans.
Stage 2: Aspen to Mt Crested Butte
The riders took the line in Aspen, Colorado under cloudy skies and with rain in the forecast, facing a 105 mile / 169 km ride to Mt Crested Butte that would take them over the 8700 ft / 2651 m McClure Pass, through 22 miles of dirt roads, over 9900 ft / 3017 m Kebler Pass, down in to Crested Butte, and up to the finish at Mt Crested Butte.
Four riders were not at the start: Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis) and Graham Briggs (Rapha Condor-JLT), who both abandoned during stage 1, and Kevin De Mesmaeker (Team Novo Nordisk) and Joshua Berry (Team Smartstop), who did not start stage 2.
The stage began with a three-mile neutral ride through the streets of Aspen, and then headed down valley to the first sprint point in Basalt, 17 miles into the stage.
At the Basalt sprint point, Tyler Magner (Hincapie Sportswear) crossed first, race leader Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare) was second and Matej Mohoric (Cannondale) was third.
The riders then headed further down the Roaring Fork Valley to Carbondale for the second sprint of the day, where Magner once again picked up top points, race leader Reijnen was again second, and Jure Kocjan (Team Smartstop) was third. As the riders made their way toward the first KOM climb of the day at McClure pass, attacks began to develop and eventually a 12 man group formed, building an advantage of three minutes with 83 kilometers to go.
At the first KOM of the day at McClure Summit, David De la Cruz (NetApp Endura) crossed first, KOM leader Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis Hagens Berman) was second, and Michael Torckler (Team Smartstop) was third.
Following the climb, a lead group of 12 settled in, building a time gap of 4 minutes on the main field before they reached the first dirt section of the race 32.9 miles / 52.9 km from the end of the race. As the riders approached the category 2 Kebler Pass, the breakaway group disintegrated, with Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Sportswear) pulling away solo.
“I attacked my breakaway companions about 10K away from the climb. I couldn’t see anyone. The last time check I saw was 30 seconds to the peloton. I had it in my head that if I could get over the top of Kebler Pass with enough time, I could end up getting to Crested Butte with 30-40 seconds. I really don’t know, but it ended up working out somehow. The rain really worked to my advantage. Since I didn’t have anyone in front of me, I had clear sight.”
– Robin Carpenter, Hincapie Sportswear
Carpenter picked up top points at the Kebler Pass summit, Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) crossed second and Michael Schär (BMC Racing Team) was third.
As the riders began the descent, they rode directly into a storm with hail, lightning, and driving rain. The final dirt portion of the route turned to slick mud as the group made their way down the treacherous downhill. With 9 km to go, officials neutralized the race. Once the race was restarted, the 45-second gap Carpenter at the time the race was stopped was reinstated.
“There was some confusion there with that neutralization. I went through the nasty part on the downhill with the mud and it seemed like all the bad stuff was behind us. Then there were a bunch of people standing in the road. The big question was what they were going to do with the rider in the breakaway. The neutralization made for a funny run in. it was really disorganized. We came to a conclusion that we were going to just go for it. I think the neutralization needed to happen at the top of the climb, not half way down the descent.”
– Alex Howes, Garmin Sharp
Still riding in a downpour, Carpenter crossed the Crested Butte sprint point first and then launched up the final climb toward the finish. When the chase group crossed the sprint point, Danny Summerhill (United Healthcare) was second and Michael Schär (BMC Racing Team) was third. Despite a chasing Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team), Carpenter managed to hold on, crossing the finish solo with Howes and Van Garderen trailing 7 seconds back.
Howes stepped into yellow leader’s jersey after the stage but played down his prospects of holding onto the overall lead.
“I have no hopes or dreams of crushing that time trial. I can’t time trial my way out of a wet paper bag. They will do their thing and hopefully I will pass this along to Tommy D. tomorrow.”
– Alex Howes, Garmin-Sharp
Stage 3: Gunnison to Monarch Mountain
Following the rain-soaked stage two ride into Crested Butte, the 123 riders remaining in the race faced another difficult day of high altitude climbing along the day’s 96.3 mile / 154.9-kilometer route.
As the riders left Gunnison, huge crowds were waiting in the clouds and mist, which eventually gave way to sunny skies, 41.9 miles / 67.4 kilometers into the stage at the category 1 Monarch Pass KOM at 11,300 ft/meters).
Despite numerous attacks, as the riders approached the climb to Monarch Pass fifty kilometers into the stage, the group was riding together, with no breakaway managing to stick.
“The yellow jersey team didn’t want to defend it. Yesterday, United Healthcare had a tactic to neutralize the breakaway for the two sprint bonuses to get Kiel in the green jersey, and then they said we’re not racing for GC, so it was up to us to be the defending champions.
If you have a strong team interested in defending the jersey, it’s easier to get the breakaway to go, if no one wants to defend it, it just makes it a bit harder.”
– Tejay van Garderen, BMC Racing Team
As the field began to ascend, Janier Acevedo (Garmin-Sharp) broke off the front and the peloton began to fracture. Acevedo built a 1 minute 15 seconds advantage before losing momentum and ending back with a chase group of seven that included Tejay Van Garderen and Ben Hermans (BMC Racing Team), Rafal Majka, Pawel Poljanski and Michael Rogers (Tinkoff Saxo), Carter Jones (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits), and Acevedo’s Garmin-Sharp teammate, Tom Danielson.
At the KOM, Hermans crossed first, with Danielson close on his wheel, and the remaining six just behind.
Groups continued to make their way through the crowds, then headed down the mountain towards Salida, where the riders circled around twice in and around Salida and passed the two intermediate sprints of the day. At the first sprint point, Acevedo crossed first, followed by Poljanski, with Hermans picking up the third place points. Soon after the sprint point, Rogers attacked and the other seven riders fell back to the field. On the second visit to Salida, Rogers picked up the top sprint points, Lucas Euser (United Healthcare) crossed second and Daniel Jaramillo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) was third.
With 20 kilometers to go, Rogers held an advantage of just over 1 minute but, as he began the climb back up Monarch Mountain for the category 2 finish, his lead began to fall and he was soon absorbed by the peloton. Despite attacks and counter-attacks, the group was together with only 1 kilometer to the go, when Van Garderen surged ahead of the group.
Van Garderen’s overall rivals, Majka and Danielson, now sit 20 and 34 seconds respectively behind the race leader.
Van Garderen commented on both following the race:
“I was never in any direct battle with Majka at the Tour. He’s a good guy and always joking with a smile on his face and he was the first to congratulate me after the finish today. He’s pretty young, too. He has a great future and he’s done so much already. I have huge respect for him.”
And, with regard to Danielson…
“The thing is, and no disrespect to him at all, but I think Danielson got a little nervous out there. He wanted to attack on his own, but it never seemed like he wanted to commit to it. I was at the wheel and he kind of just stayed there. At the same time, he didn’t want anyone else to get up front. I could sense he was nervous, so I just sat behind him while he wore himself out. All it took was one solid move.”
“I had a great ride today. It wasn’t too steep for me and there was a headwind. Everyone tried to attack and keep attacking. With just 1k to go Tejay jumped on my back and was too close and I started to slow down.”
– Serghei Tvetcov, Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis
Stage 4: Colorado Springs Circuit
Elia Viviani (Cannondale) sprinted to victory in Colorado Springs for the stage 4 win at the USA Pro Challenge.
“It was a huge win today. I had a great and beautiful experience in 2011 and now I’ve come back three years later and it’s still such a beautiful place. I like to race here so much, but it’s really difficult. I don’t race the Tour of Utah, so the atmosphere was very difficult for me the first three stages here. My team worked hard.”
– Elia Viviani, Cannondale
Martin Kohler (BMC Racing Team) was second and Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis) was once again on the podium in third place.
“With 200 meters left, I wanted to go, but hesitated a bit and then Viviani came by 10 kilometers an hour faster than me. Until a lap to go, I was only thinking of doing my job for Tejay. But we didn’t have to do anything on the middle two laps, so I saved a bit to try something in the sprint.”
– Martin Kohler, BMC Racing Team
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) safely held on to the overall race lead, remaining 20 seconds ahead of Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) and 23 seconds in front of teammate, Ben Hermans.
“It worked out better than we could have imagined. With such a short stage, we thought there could be attacks all day. We were going through all the worst-case scenarios. Thankfully we were able to keep it controlled.”
– Tejay Van Garderen, BMC Racing Team
Stage 5: Woodland Park to Breckenridge
Stage 5 began at 8437 feet / 2571 meters in Woodland Park and traveled 104.2 miles / 167.6 kilometers through the Colorado countryside.
The route included one sprint point 78.5 miles / 126.3 kilometers into the race at Fairplay (9950 ft / 3032 meters), a category 2 climb of Hoosier Pass, which tops out at 11,539 feet / 3517 meters, and second KOM at the category 3 on Boreas Pass Rd, just 2.5 miles / 3.9 kilometers from the race end.
Missing from the start was Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo), leaving 122 riders starting the stage.
As the riders left the neutral zone, a light rain was falling and the temperature was 61°F / 16 °C and rain and wind was predicted throughout the day. 20 miles / 33 km into the race, a group of eight riders had a slight advantage of 10 seconds. They included: Tiago Machado (NetApp Endura), Danny Summerhill (United Healthcare), Eric Marcotte (Team SmartStop), Tyler Magner and Dion Smith (Hincapie Sportswear), Luis Romero Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Steve Fisher (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis), and Greg Daniel (Bissell Development Team).
Over the next 10 miles, the break fell back to the peloton and David Lozano (Team Novo Nordisk) and Travis McCabe (Team Smartstop) both called it quits and abandoned the race. With 100 kilometers to go, a group of 12 riders managed to pull away and quickly build a 3 minute 30 seconds advantage. The group included: Daniel Eaton (Bissell Development Team), Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis), Scott Zwizanski (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits), Richard Handley (Rapha Condor JLT), Chris Butler (Hincapie Sportswear), Rob Britton (Team Smartstop), Jai Crawford (Drapac Professional Sysling), Jose Mendes (NetApp Endura), Cristiano Salerno (Cannondale), Ben King and Janier Acevedo (Garmin Sharp), and Lauren Didier (Trek Factory Racing).
The group worked well together and continued to increase their advantage to 4 minutes 30 seconds with 70 kilometers to go. No one in the breakaway was a threat to Kiel Reijnen’s hold on the sprint jersey, and at the Fairplay sprint point it was uncontested with Lemus crossing first, Crawford second and Handley was third.
As the lead group began to climb Hoosier Pass, the gap began to drop, and by the time they crossed the summit, where it was 49°F / 9.4 °C, the leader’s advantage had dropped to 2 minutes 30 seconds. The results of the Hooiser Pass KOM were Didier first, Acevedo second and King third. Didier pulled off the front as he headed down the descent and was joined by Acevedo, Britton and King. The riders circled through downtown Breckenridge, then headed to the final KOM of the day, a category 3 climb on Boreas Pass road, before heading back into downtown with a Main street finish.
With 1 kilometer to go, Didier was leading, with Britton and Acevedo close behind. Holding on to the finish, Didier sprinted to the stage win, with Acevedo coming in second and Britton crossing third.
“The really big thing here is the altitude. When I talk to other people about it, they really don’t understand until they actually experience it. When you’re in Denver, you’re going flat, but you’re already about 1,800 ft. up. In Europe, 1,800 ft. is the top of the climb and in Denver, we’re already there.
“I came here about two days before to try and adapt to the altitude. The third day of the race, I got better and was in the first group of 24. Yesterday, I was in the breakaway again, but today, I didn’t feel that good in the beginning. The first 40K was quite hard, but I was in the front at one point. The weather conditions were not so easy either.”
– Laurent Didier, Trek Factory Racing
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) remains in the overall race lead 20 seconds ahead of Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) and 37 seconds in front of Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis).
“It was definitely a tough day. The breakaway took a really long time to get along and my team had to control it the whole time. That, coupled with the cold and the rain, made it pretty hard, especially on my team because they had to pull all day.”
Stage 6: Vail ITT
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) set a course record in a downpour at the USA Pro Challenge stage 6 individual time trial with a time of 24:26.
“This is my third time trial in Vail. The first time I did it, it couldn’t have been worse. I went way too hard and lost the yellow jersey. Last year, I can’t say it was bad, but you could see I was really struggling on TV and barely holding on. This year, I felt powerful the whole time and tried to stay conscious the first half. It’s just about judging the altitude on this course.”
– Tejay Van Garderen, BMC Racing Team
Tom Danielson (Garmin Sharp) was second and Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis) was third.
“I’ll be honest. I was a little insecure about today. I haven’t done a good time trial this year. It was nice to get that monkey off my back today. I felt pretty strong and the crowd was incredible. Colorado crowds are second to none. The last 500 meters were absolutely insane. I thought I was going to crash and I was in so much pain. It was really cool though. I’m very happy with my performance today. To be second to Tejay is an honor.”
– Tom Danielson, Garmin Sharp
“It was a really hard time trial. It was cold and uphill and the altitude was bad. Finally it turned out ok in the end for me compared to last year. This year the wind was faster, but I was happy today to be on the podium.”
– Serghei Tvetcov, Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis
Van Garderen now leads the overall race by 1 minute 31 seconds in front of Danielson and 1 minute 45 seconds ahead of Tvetcov.
Stage 7: Boulder to Denver
Alex Howes (Garmin Sharp) sprinted to victory in downtown Denver claiming stage 7 of the USA Pro Challenge 2014.
“We went past my house literally four times today on the opening circuits. We went past my high school and my elementary school. I saw my entire family out there today. The plan was to go over Lookout and drive it to the finish and I didn’t know if it was going to work. We got to talking on the team bus this morning and we all agreed we’d try. With my team riding up there today in my home state with all their hearts, I just couldn’t lose.”
Alex Howes, Garmin Sharp
Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare) was second and Michael Schär (BMC Racing Team) was third.
“We came into this race with goals for stage wins. Today was a really close one. To see how hard the guys rode for me, we were all really satisfied. It’s really an honor for all of us from Colorado. It’s really, really special for us. We got to start in Boulder, where I grew up, and it’s a pretty special kind of motivation and a truly unique experience.”
– Kiel Reijnen, United Healthcare
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) won the overall race, with Tom Danielson (Garmin Sharp) coming in second and Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis) placing third.
“This week was just incredible. We started in my new hometown of Aspen and when we were staying out there, we went by my house four times on the circuit. When training, I had all the guys over for lunch at my house before.
Today, we were in Boulder where I used to live and we went to Taylor Phinney’s apartment right by the start line. We were just playing video games and hanging out. A lot of times you race and it just feels like stress because you have a job to do and you have to perform. Here, this is just our home and it feels more like a training camp; it’s just fun. It feels like we’re racing with all our friends. It was fun to share that with my European teammates. This must be what it feels like for them when they race in their homeland.”
– Tejay Van Garderen, BMC Racing Team
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