USA Pro Challenge: Kiel Reijnen notches Stage 3 win with daredevil pass in downtown Aspen
The leaderboard — Stage 3
1. Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare)
2. Rohan Dennis (BMC)
3. Ruben Zepuntke (Cannondale-Garmin)
4. Logan Owen (Axeon Racing)
5. Julian David Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing)
1. Brent Bookwalter (BMC)
2. Rohan Dennis (BMC) — 0:06 back
3. Jonny Clarke (United Healthcare) — 0:10 back
4. Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros) — 0:10 back
5. Robbie Squire (Hincapie Racing) — 0:13 back
Overall team leaders
1. BMC Racing Team
2. Jelly Belly-Maxxis — 0:47 back
3. Hincapie Racing — 0:51 back
Overall KOM leader
Will Routley (Optum)
Overall sprint leader
Taylor Phinney (BMC)
Overall best young rider
Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros)
Overall Colorado rider
Alexandr Braico (Jelly Belly-Maxxis)
After nearly a dozen lead changes in the final two miles, United Healthcare rider Kiel Reijnen made a daredevil move through the twists and turns of downtown Aspen to win Stage 3 at the USA Pro Challenge.
But his cunning sprint only seemed reckless, at least for the hundreds of fans lining the main drag. The 28-year-old Boulder resident has an instinctual feel for Aspen streets: He took first at the 2014 circuit race from Aspen to Snowmass, and now boasts two wins at the only town featured in all five editions of the Pro Challenge.
“I know this town well,” he told The Aspen Times. “In those last few meters, it’s all instinct.”
He barely edged out Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing in the final hundred meters of Stage 2, handing the Australian time trial specialist his second near-win in less than 24 hours.
Ruben Zepuntke of Cannondale-Garmin came in third to give the Denver-based team its first podium of the race. Stage 2 winner Brent Bookwalter (BMC) holds onto the yellow leader’s jersey, followed in the overall standings by teammate Dennis and United Healthcare’s Jonny Clarke.
“This is the first race I’ve led in the USA,” said Bookwalter, who was third in the opening stage behind Taylor Phinney and Reijnen. “Our team has done a great job.”
The 101-mile course from Copper Mountain to Aspen claimed several riders in the early stages, including Eric Young of Optum Racing, who crashed on the bumpy descent from Fremont Pass into Leadville.
The 123-man field was whittled down to 120 riders when it reached Leadville. The mid-race sprint was over almost before it began, with Jesus Hernandez of Tinkoff-Saxo taking the early sprint title. Kyle Murphy of Caja Rural-Seguros was second in the sprint, followed by Daniel Jaramillo of Jamis-Hagens Berman in third.
After passing through Leadville and the wide-open meadows around Twin Lakes, the riders faced a monster: Independence Pass.
“To say I was in distress is an understatement,” Reijnen said of his struggle to reach the summit of the 12,095-foot pass. His team was a godsend on the ascent, with support riders Marco Canola and Janez Brajkovic helping break the headwind to conserve energy for the downtown sprint.
Leapfrogging to a win
The final 20-mile descent from the summit into Aspen was something of a graceful free-for-all, with top teams BMC Racing and Jelly Belly-Maxxis leading the charge for points, followed by pockets of two or three riders from Russia’s Tinkoff-Saxo, Australia’s Team Budget Forklifts and Spain’s Caja Rural-Seguros.
The peloton quickly absorbed what was left of a breakaway, led by Laurent Didier of Trek Factory Racing. Didier also tried to pull away solo on the climb from Twin Lakes earlier in the race.
But, on the descent to Aspen, he was caught along with Lachlan Morton of Jelly Belly-Maxxis, who would launch three more futile attacks on the descent in an effort to break ahead.
Then came the blue jerseys of United Healthcare. Reijnen and teammate Marco Canola stayed in the mix throughout, weaving in and out of the massive 25-man lead group in search of a gap. It was easily the largest lead of any stage this year, with riders tempting hairpin turns and tight switchbacks only to be reabsorbed into the fray.
When the lead group reached Main Street in Aspen, cyclists from every team but BMC started making individual attempts for the finish. BMC veterans Dennis and Brent Bookwalter remained calm and collected, drafting off each other as younger riders anxiously gained and lost ground.
Reijnen, a frequent top-10 finisher with a stage win at the recent Tour of Utah, mirrored the BMC riders until he hit familiar terrain on Main Street.
He played leapfrog through two 90-degree turns, drafting first off one rider, then another, until he reached the final straightaway and hit the afterburners.
“As soon as I got on his wheel, I kept going,” Reijnen said. It was a redux of the move made by Phinney in Stage 1, when the Boulder native pulled past Reijnen in the final few seconds to claim the first yellow jersey of the race. Reijnen took second in that stage, but his Aspen finish was enough to boost him past Phinney in the overall sprint leader standings.
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