Youth prevails in USA Pro Challenge’s high-climbing Stage Two

Mathias Frank takes stage, Lachlan Morton in leader's spot

Mathias Frank after winning Stage Two
Photo by Garrett Ellwood, GettyImages

On Pro Challenge Stage Two’s final climb up Hoosier Pass, Lachlan Morton cranked up the speed in a move that saw him surge ahead not to win the stage, but to take the leader’s jersey into Stage Three of the race.

Morton, a Garmin-Sharp cyclist, was awarded Best Young Rider in the 2013 Tour of Utah and won Stage Three of that race. He needed a minute of lead on the peloton on the pass to win the stage and take the yellow leader’s jersey into Stage Three. He was chased by Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) and Mathias Frank (BMC).

Morton fired his way up and over the final King of the Mountain on Hoosier Pass, 11,000 feet in elevation, taking the summit almost 2 minutes ahead of the field before beginning a solo descent toward Breckenridge.

“It’s difficult to tell at the time because you’re really not sure how far behind everyone else is,” Morton said in a press release from the Pro Challenge. “The best way for me to win was to drop the rest of the guys on the last hill. At that point, I just wanted to get to the finish line as fast as I possibly could. In the end you can always have a plan, but what actually happens can be completely different.”

As he stacked his upper body onto the top tube of his bike frame, carefully squeezed between the handlebars and the seat, race commentators remarked on the fearlessness in the 21-year-old rider. He was clocked at speeds of up to 55 and 60 miles per hour headed downhill, hugging the inner edges of the corners to keep up his momentum and not so much as touching a brake.

Craddock and Frank caught him close to the final uphill kick on Boreas Pass to the finish line, with a chase group just a minute behind that included Peter Sagan, that was then sucked back into the field.

The final climb at Boreas Pass was lined with cheering, and occasionally costumed (or less than) fans, sporting a Colorado flag cape, panda heads, a banana costume that ran alongside the riders for a minute, and a few hard charging guys in their undies.

“I was up here a couple weeks ago and had a chance to look at the final climb. If the race was at sea level, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but as soon as I saw it, I knew it was going to be difficult,” Morton said, according to a race press release. “When something is so steep and you have to make such an intense effort, it’s impossible to recover.”

Craddock slipped behind as Frank crept to the front ahead of Morton, while Sagan was surging ahead from the field, with Tejay Van Garderen right behind him.

A quick, curving decline to the finish saw Frank still in the lead, met by a wall of noise from the crowd in Breckenridge.

He finished the stage first to take the win, followed by Morton just two seconds behind and Sagan in third, 11 seconds behind Frank.

“I really had one shot, and today I knew that I could make it there on the short, steep climb,” Frank said in a press release from the Pro Challenge. “But the altitude here really got to me and I found it more and more difficult to pedal. I’m so glad I made it to the finish. I really had to go super deep there at the finish.”

Frank’s lead wasn’t enough to put him in the leader’s jersey, though, and that went to Morton. Sagan, riding in his first Pro Challenge, will carry the sprint jersey into Stage Three.
Matt Cooke, who was hired by Jamis in July primarily to run support for Janier Alexis Calle Acevedo, held on to the King of the Mountain jersey, having topped Independence Pass second.

The race’s signature move has been a climb over Independence Pass, which opened the second stage of the Pro Challenge on Tuesday. Twenty miles into the stage, the riders were already at the 12,000-foot summit of the pass. A breakaway group early in the stage saw Michael Schär (BMC), Matt Cooke (Jamis) and Davila Lemus (Jelly Belly) more than two minutes ahead of the peloton before they were chased down by David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Kanstantin Siutsou (Sky) to form a group of five, cooperating to keep a lead on the field as they headed toward the top of the pass. That first King of the Mountain went to Schär, followed by Cooke, with Lemus (the current Mexican national road race champion) and Tyler Wren (Jamis) in fourth and fifth.

The first sprint of the day, some 99.7 km into the race, in Buena Vista, went to Lemus, Schär and Millar. Siutsou and Cooke were shortly behind. The field merged at the middle of the stage, then another breakaway group of up to 15 riders came forward. That group included eventual stage winner Frank and Morton, as well as Craddock.

After the shuffling, Greg Van Avermaet led the second sprint in Fairplay, 160.8 km into the race. Andy Schleck and Andrew Talansky followed.

Reports from the field were peppered throughout the day with riders dropping out of the race over the course of the stage, at least five calling it quits (last year, 117 riders finished the first stage, and 96 were left to race by the seventh stage).