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.