USA Pro Challenge: Taylor Phinney wins Steamboat USA sprint
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Boulder cyclist Taylor Phinney couldn’t even watch the USA Pro Challenge a year ago, let alone race in it.
Three months removed from a nasty crash that left him with a broken leg, he was far from healed, both physically and mentally.
Phinney was a new man Monday, however, surging from an exhausted, exasperated peloton to win Stage 1 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat Springs, throwing up his arms and screaming as he crossed the finish line, soaking in the raucous joy of thousands of fans packed into downtown.
“I can’t remember the last time I genuinely screamed in excitement,” Phinney said afterward. “I was blown away crossing the finish line.”
The Steamboat Springs stage was supposed to be a sprint, its hills too small to matter and its terrain too easy to ride.
That same logic also dictated Phinney didn’t have much of a chance.
But, the world was turned upside Monday in Stage 1 as riders struggled with a trio of short but nasty hills — mightier together and in the flesh, it turns out, than they seemed to be apart and on paper.
Breakaway riders, meanwhile, caused late headaches for the peloton, which itself was gradually shrinking over those climbs.
A vicious and gutsy attack from BMC Racing’s Rohan Dennis put on even more pressure over the final 10 miles, forcing a desperate attempt to reel him and various other challengers back from one team that was most invested in a sprint finish — UnitedHealthCare, working for star speedster Kiel Reijnen, who won last year’s opening Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race.
“That effort, combined with those hills, bled UHC white and, when it came to it, Reijnen had few helpers for the final push.
“Those climbs are one right after the other, and in the end, that’s what exploded the race,” said Reijnen, who ended up second on the day. “There were a lot of tired bodies.”
They caught Dennis about a half-mile from the line, after the course cut onto the wide highway and tilted toward a fast, downhill finish on Lincoln Avenue.
But there was nothing left to answer BMC’s final punch — a revitalized, rejuvenated Colorado hero in Phinney.
He launched around the leaders with teammate Brent Bookwalter hanging tight to his wheel.
Competitors eventually forced Brookwalter off, but Phinney kept at it, swooping down Lincoln in front of thoiusands of fans to take the stage.
“That was really special and really emotional,” Phinney said, “just that electrical moment we all live for.”
Phinney included a Boulder-to-Moab five-day bike trip with some Boulder pals as part of his training program.
The tour stopped in Aspen before heading on to Hotchkiss.
Phinney rode with fellow pros Lachlan and Gus Morton and Cam Wurf.
Aspen High graduate Keegan Swirbul, riding for the Axeon team, was scheduled to race in the USA Pro Challenge on Monday. morning.
He was on the official team roster but was unable to take the starting line Monday and was listed officially as a DNS.
Stage 2 will start in Steamboat Springs and take the cyclists to a mountain finish at the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
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