USA Pro cyclists endure cold, wet ride to Breckenridge
BRECKENRIDGE — Rain.
Rain and cold.
The weather turned wicked again Friday in the fourth-annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Cyclists encountered cold rain from the start in Woodland Park almost to the finish of the 104-mile fifth stage in Breckenridge.
Laurent Didier, a Luxembourg cyclist riding for Trek Factory Racing, survived among the survivors as he won the stage and a final duel on Boreas Pass with Janier Acevedo, a Colombian riding for Garmin Sharp.
Rob Britton, a Canadian riding for Team Smartstop, finished third in the tortuous stage that featured the long, grinding climb up Hoosier Pass — the high point of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge at 11,300 feet in elevation.
But the rain and the cold dominated in a day that overall leader, Aspen’s Tejay van Garderen of BMC, safely protected his lead and actually extended it over most of the general classification leaders.
“It was freezing out there,” van Garderen said in an interview on the NBC Sports Network right after the stage. “It was like a mind-over-matter thing today. There were a lot of guys shivering.”
He said the difficult conditions require added focus as well as added effort.
Van Garderen finished ninth in a group and 1:33 back of Didier, who won his first stage race as a professional.
Poland’s Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo was 10th, right on van Garderen’s wheel. He’s still in second place overall, 20 seconds behind van Garderen and the yellow jersey.
Racing for the first time in North America and for the first time at elevation, Majka is coming off a title two weeks ago in the Tour of Poland. He won two stages of the 2014 Tour de France, including the top climber’s jersey. And he was second to van Garderen in Wednesday’s mountain stage that finished at Monarch Mountain on Monarch Pass.
Ben King of Garmin Sharp finished fourth Friday and was awarded the most aggressive rider’s jersey. He and Acevedo were among the original break of 12 riders, who pedaled off into the clouds and rain after leaving Woodland Park.
King, in fact, set the stage for a possible Acevedo victory on the final climb up steep, but short, Boreas Pass right out of Breckenridge.
But Didier was the one who responded as he collected a victory at a venue where Acevedo won a year earlier.
“It was not an easy day,” Didier said in his postrace TV interview. “In the middle part of the race, in the rain, I stayed focused.”
He said he knew he had to ride a smart race in the closing kilometers.
“I didn’t race here last year, but I remember the climb from television … I watched at home,” Didier said.
With those TV visions in mind, he dashed away on the final part of the steep Boreas ascent and then held off the charge of Acevedo and Britton.
Serghei Tvetcov, a Romanian riding for Jelly Belly, moved up to third place in the general classification standings. He’s :37 back of van Garderen.
Tommy Danielson of Garmin Sharp moved up to fourth place overall. The recent winner of a second consecutive title in the Tour of Utah, Danielson is :39 back of van Garderen heading into today’s pivotal individual time trial up Vail Pass.
“I’ve got to keep my wits about me,” van Garderen said of today’s time trial, adding that a blowup at elevation can cost a rider significantly.
“And Majka is riding really strong,” said van Garderen, who finish fifth in the recent Tour de France. He won the crucial third stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge when he beat the field to the mountain finish at Monarch Mountain.
Aspen’s Keegan Swirbul, the 18-year-old first-year pro with the Bissell Development Team is in 65th place overall, and his team is dominating in the young rider category.
Teammate Clement Chevrier from France is leading in the young rider jersey competition.
And Bissell teammates Ruben Zepuntke and Tanner Putt are second and third, respectively, in the same division.
Today, the cyclists will face the iconic Vail Individual Time Trial up Vail Pass — up the frontage road that is.
The 10-mile time trial has been critical in determining the final outcome of the USA Pro Challenge in each of the first three years of the race.
The time trial is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in downtown Vail.
The course, which dates back to the days of the Coors Classic, starts off with a gradual climb and then ramps up to the finish at 9,600 feet.
The seventh and final stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge will be the Boulder-to-Denver, 78-mile finishing stage.
The route will leave Boulder at 12:30 p.m. and head to Golden. There’s a 4-mile climb up Lookout Mountain and a run back through Golden.
Three-and-half finishing laps in downtown Denver will close the 2014 Colorado pro stage race.
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