BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (VN) – Andy Schleck and Laurens Ten Dam were both angry after their long breakaway failed inside 500 meters to go in Saturday’s penultimate stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The high-power 150km escape came to a disappointing conclusion after infighting doomed Schleck (Leopard-Trek), Ten Dam (Rabobank), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Tom Peterson (Garmin-Cervélo) just before they turned onto a thunderous Main Street finish straight.
Schleck attacked on Swan Mountain, the day’s final KOM climb, 16km from the finish. The spindly climber had to and his companions knew it. The long false flat into Breckenridge and the downhill sprint didn’t offer an opportunity for him to ride away from the more powerful Basso, Peterson and Ten Dam.
“I knew (Swan Mountain) was hard and I knew Andy would attack, but it was still far from the finish,” said Ten Dam.
The move only netted Schleck, three times runner-up in the Tour de France, 15 seconds and that gap dropped after he made the left turn from the descent onto Highway 9. The group was soon back together, but the cooperation that had existed through the second intermediate sprint in Dillon evaporated.
“After we caught Andy he said, ‘I don’t pull anymore,’” Ten Dam told VeloNews. “When Andy did not pull, I started to attack and Ivan. Peterson was (explicit). So I think there was a good chance for me to win today if we came to the line with three guys. I’m not fast, but they’re not fast either.”
Ten Dam likely lost the most when the peloton stormed down on the break as they entered downtown Breckenridge. At 2km the leaders held a 40-second advantage. At 1km it was a quarter of that. When they made the turn onto the downhill finish straight, it was over.
Ten Dam’s frustration was clear when he crossed the line. The tall Dutchman, whose sutured face shone during the Tour in July after he suffered a bad laceration in a crash, yelled as he sped past the line in the bunch behind stage winner Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale).
“Of course (it’s bitter),” Ten Dam told VeloNews. “If you’re on the front for 150km you want to sprint for the win or the podium or something. Now you don’t get anything. I shot my legs again.”
Basso’s let down was replaced by the satisfaction of a second consecutive stage win for his 22-year-old teammate, who locked up the sprinters’ competition.
Schleck stopped a hundred meters beyond the line with his brother Fränk. He leaned over his handlebars angry.
“We had a plan that we ride together, but I said, ‘I don’t promise to ride to the finish with all of you,’” said Schleck. “We gambled too long and suddenly the peloton was there. I wish it would have been 500 meters shorter.”
Five hundred meters shorter would have put the finish on the uphill run-in to town. That would have flipped the script of the entire finale.
A few minutes later Ten Dam and Basso rolled back toward the finish in search of Schleck. Ten Dam yelled, “Andy!” and rolled up alongside Schleck, who was on his way to the podium to collect his most aggressive prize.
Ten Dam placed a hand on Schleck’s back and the three riders exchanged words.
“We had 40 seconds at 2km,” said Schleck in a frustrated tone. They spoke quietly for a minute and by the time they rolled away from each other, tempers had calmed.
“It’s sad to lose the race in the last 300 meters,” Schleck told VeloNews moments later. “They caught me back and then Laurens attacked and Ivan attacked. For me, I either win the stage or I didn’t want to ride for the others. I want to win or I don’t care if I’m second or third or 10th or 20th. I had to win the stage and had to gamble in the end.”
All things equal, ten seconds a kilometer is the usual standard by which breakaways are reeled in by the pro peloton. With attacks flying and the group not rotating smoothly, the bunch closed an unbelievable 40 seconds in 2km Saturday.
Schleck called it the hardest stage he had ridden in “a long time.” And it all went for naught.
“It was really, really hard,” said Schleck. “Headwind and straight roads you saw 20km ahead of you.”
Schleck still wore the disappointment of the day on his face 30 minutes later at the post-race press conference, where he sat in the orange most aggressive jersey. All considered, he said, his ride in Colorado has been a mixed bag, but good preparation for the remainder of the season.
With his award, Schleck earned a trip to the podium, €375.00 and a new jersey. Ten Dam got none of that. The disappointment was real, but with the team headed to Denver, the craft beer capital of the U.S., Ten Dam put the situation into perspective.
“Maybe it was better we catch him a little bit later and for sure we would have made it to the finish,” said Ten Dam. “But that’s life. I’m frustrated, but tonight I’ll drink a beer and I’ll be happy again.”