Stage Four was a day for favorites to finally emerge from
the field in the USA Pro Challenge.
Tejay Van Garderen, Janier Acevedo and Tom Danielson came
forward on the final climb up Bachelor Gulch in the Queen Stage of the Pro
Challenge to put their legs to the test and see who had what it took to take
the lead in the race. It was not the uphill, where Danielson set the pace, but
the downhill, when Acevedo and Van Garderen pulled ahead and created a gap
Danielson wasn’t able to close. All the gap closing came, instead, from Mathias
Frank, who crept up and past Danielson to finish the stage third, nine seconds
ahead of Danielson.
Stage Four, the Queen Stage, sets riders against 102.9 miles
an 11,647 feet of climbing that begins in Steamboat, rolls through hills to
State Bridge, then begins a relentless series of climbs to four KOM challenges,
including an ascent to Bachelor Gulch that occasionally throws out a brutal 18
percent incline. A technical descent is capped off with a final two-kilometer
climb to the finish in Beaver Creek.
Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Van Garderen (BMC) were
clearly cooperating, and Van Garderen left off the sprint to the finish,
seeming to let Acevedo take the stage win — though it was Acevedo’s charge down
from the Bachelor Gulch summit that set Van Garderen up to win. Torrential rain
met those riders for the finish, but then cleared off by the time the last of
the peloton pedaled across the finish line.
The 2012 Pro Challenge seemed characterized by solo runs for
the final summits and finish lines, but the signature move this year is an
early breakaway. Stage Four’s saw a cluster of 10 riders who hovered as much as
4 minutes head of the field through the first half of the course. Those riders
were Danny Pate (Sky), Kanstantin Siutsou (Sky), Tony Gallopin (Radioshack
Leopard Trek), LawrenceWarbasse (BMC), Michael Rogers (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Timothy
Duggan (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Davide Villella (Cannondale), Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens
Berman) Tvetcov (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Jason McCartney (Bissell). The day’s
sprint points went to Siutsou, Warbasse and Duggan.
Cooke, KOM points leader, was in position to take first on
the first two KOMs of the race. He finished Stage Four with 46 points, and with
few serious climbs left in the race, he’s likely in position to win the general
classification for that competition.
Garmin and BMC were staying at the front of the peloton,
protecting the interests of Garmin’s riders, Lachlan Morton in the leader’s
jersey, and Danielson, who were 10 wheels back, while BMC was shortly behind,
putting Van Garderen, ranked fourth overall, in key position.
As speed dropped in the breakaway and the gap closed to
below three minutes for the first time, Siutsou attacked the break, leading a separation
that included Gallopin, Warbass, Rogers, Villella, while the second group of
Pate, Cooke, Tvetcov and Duggan fell steadily behind. Jamis riders came to the
front of the peloton, catching Cooke and putting Acevedo in position to emerge
later in the lead.
That last break lost time as the riders began their way up
the brutal Bachelor Gulch climb, winding their way up the pavement between
resort homes, pine and aspen trees and beneath still chairlifts. Danielson came
to the front to do the work leading the way up that climb before Acevedo
charged forward, Van Garderen on his wheel, for the decline.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is still the points leader, but was
not among the early finishers for Stage Four.
Morton will ride Stage Five in the Best Young Rider jersey.
Lucas Euser (United Healthcare) finished 13th in the stage
and has climbed his way to the top 10 overall. His teammate, Kiel Riejnen,
unfortunately did not ride today. He was one of four riders who did not return
to the race after a crash yesterday that took as many as 10 of them down.