COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (VN) — HTC-Highroad’s men’s team, in the final half year of its existence, continues to post top results. On a sweltering day with Pikes Peak as a backdrop, the team’s 24-year-old German time trial specialist, Patrick Gretsch, powered to a win here Monday on the largely downhill 5.2-mile prologue of the first USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Gretsch’s win also added another small chapter to the long rivalry between the Highroad squad and its fellow American team, Garmin-Cervelo. Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde was a surprise runner-up in the stage race’s appetizer, just two seconds behind Gretsch. American Brent Bookwalter, from that other big U.S. team (the one that contains Tour de France champion Cadel Evans) was third, another two seconds back.
All three podium finishers were early starters on the day and likely benefitted from an increasing headwind that developed as the day wore on. Their team’s final starters — HTC’s Tejay Van Garderen, Garmin’s Dave Zabriskie and BMC’s Evans — had to contend with the headwind and finished a handfull of seconds back.
The gaps were minimal on the short, fast course and none of the GC favorites lost any significant time.
Gretsch, who is joining Skil-Shimano in 2012, said he focused on a win Monday as the first few stages in Colorado are not suited to him. He practiced a critical high-speed 90-degree left hand turn repeatedly. “It was a tricky corner and we did it 10 times already before in the training. Did it today 5K slower than it training,” he said. In the race, Gretsch was going about 55 mph approaching the corner, he said.
Garmin chose to start Vande Velde, one of its GC favorites, early, and the decision paid off.
“I’ve never started first before, ever in my career,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be on the podium today; I hoped to do a good ride.”
Garmin-Cervélo director of sports science Robbie Ketchell said, “This is why we decided to go early … It was only a slight wind, but with that long straightaway a light wind is critical.”
Bookwalter, a podium finisher in the 2010 Giro d’Italia prologue, said he too “might have also gotten a little lucky with the wind than the later guys.”
“To be only a few seconds off Gretsch, I felt like I did a good time,” Bookwalter said.
The day’s final starter was Bookwalter’s BMC teammate, the Tour champion, who finished ninth at :08.
Evans said the course “wasn’t exactly my thing” and that he felt OK in his first race since winning the Tour de France.
“Give me a couple days and I might be able to go all right,” Evans said. “The adjustment to altitude is the biggest thing. I think the guys who rode Utah are at an advantage having been here another week.”