BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (VN) — Wily veteran Jens Voigt rode alone to victory on Thursday in stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge.
The RadioShack-Nissan hardman joined an escape on the ascent of Independence Pass as the race left Aspen — and then he discarded it, soldiering on alone over that KOM, through Leadville and over the Battle Mountain KOM.
“It started this morning at our team meeting,” Voigt said. “They said, ‘Jens, you know, you do whatever you do. Whatever you know to do.’”
All he knows how to do, it turns out, is attack.
Bound for Beaver Creek the big German had built an advantage of nearly six and a half minutes over the yellow-jersey group of Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp), which shrugged its collective shoulders on Battle Mountain, wished the old boy well and set about arranging the overall standings.
Six miles from the line Voigt still held six minutes of his margin. And though the peloton would gnaw away at it on the way into town, they would not catch him — Voigt crossed alone for the victory, waving to the cheering crowd, straightening his jersey and grinning from ear to ear.
Just short of three minutes later, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) avenged himself on race leader Vande Velde, sprinting to third place on the stage behind RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden and reclaiming his yellow jersey from the Garmin-Sharp rider, who crossed sixth.
“At 20k to go we knew Jens would win,” said Klöden. “I felt good today on the climbs so I saw the chance to do a short sprint at the end. It was a little hard because it was uphill but the path opened up and I just went for the line.”
Vande Velde remains second overall, still tied on time with the BMC man, with Ivan Rovny (RusVelo) third at six seconds back.
Adios to Aspen
The 97.2-mile stage from Aspen to Beaver Creek saw a return to foul weather and an early break by Craig Lewis (Champion System), Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare), Rubens Bertogliati (Team Type 1-Sanofi), and Camilo Castiblanco and Eduard Beltran (EPM-UNE).
They were joined by Voigt, Jesse Anthony (Optum), Andres Diaz Corrales (Exergy), Roman Kreuziger and Fabio Aru (Astana), Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp), Matt Cooke (Exergy), Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), Carter Jones and Julian Kyer (Bissell), and Ivan Santaromita (BMC).
The large break built a gap of 3:40 on the ascent of Independence Pass before Voigt rolled off the front alone and took a serious advantage over a pair of chase groups, which eventually merged into one pursuit, with the yellow-jersey group further behind.
Lewis, who got the break rolling with an attack from the gun, said it was “a great group until Jens hit out and we just couldn’t follow that pace.”
“We hit a little flat section 5K into the climb and he just came from the back of the group about twice as fast as we were going, and got a 200-meter gap and just kind of stayed there for a little bit,” Lewis added. “We started fooling around and attacking each other a little bit, he looked like he might fade a little bit, but then he was out of sight.”
Voigt said he knew it was time to move on Independence Pass.
He told himself, “Jens, go now, go now. You finish with two minutes on Independence and they never see you again.”
There was a moment, of course, where Voigt thought perhaps he’d flown too early. He thought the media would say he was a “dumbass” for going too soon.
“I knew that it’s risky, but hey, what should I wait for, you know?” he said.
Voigt led over the KOM of Independence Pass and held to a lead of nearly two and a half minutes over the first chase and four minutes more over the yellow-jersey group.
Wind and rain lashed both hare and hounds, and the jersey group reeled the first chase in just past Leadville. That left only Voigt out front, racing alone in 51-degree temperatures and rain, sans jacket.
The valley was lonely. At one point, the German joked, he could see clear to Canada.
With 22 miles to race Voigt held an advantage of nearly four minutes over the Liquigas-Cannondale-led chase. That was the good news. The better news was that he was on dry roads.
Behind, the field sat up, glanced around and shut it down, save for a lone Exergy who rolled off the front, considered trying to make a race of it, then fell back to the bunch.
“Liquigas was chasing, but they finally just sat up and let him go,” said RadioShack’s Chris Horner. ”It would have been really tight one way or the other. I wouldn’t have wanted to bet my house on it either. But once they sat up and they gave him another minute, then you knew Jens was going to win.”
Voigt began the ascent of Battle Mountain with a gap of more than five minutes and Lars Michelson offering encouragement from the RadioShack team car.
He didn’t need it — as he went over the KOM and began his descent to Minturn he had nearly six minutes on the bunch.
Behind, Castiblanco attacked the field, going for the second-place points at the Battle Mountain KOM, and he got them, ahead of teammate Javier Eduardo Gomez Pineda. That drew out mountains leader Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), who followed the Colombians, took the fourth-place points and got out front to position himself for the final climb to Beaver Creek.
Then the contenders for the overall fought it out in town, the leader’s jersey changed hands once more, and the peloton set about preparing for Friday’s mostly downhill leg to Colorado Springs, home to the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Cycling.
All of that made no difference to Voigt. He brought RadioShack what it wanted from the Pro Challenge — a stage win — and having re-signed with the squad for another season, who knows? He may be back for another shot in 2013.
Danielson retained the red jersey of the mountains-classification leader. Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) likewise kept the green sprint leader’s jersey.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge.