MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colorado (VN) — Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) won stage 2 and took over the yellow jersey in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge on Tuesday.
Van Garderen and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp), 17th and 19th overall at the start, tied on time with race leader Tyler Farrar (Garmin), fought out a two-up sprint to the line as the peloton caught a disintegrating breakaway in the finale, and the younger man proved the stronger of the two.
Vande Velde hung on for second, while Ivan Rovny (RusVelo) took third at six seconds back. Two seconds later, defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) crossed in fourth.
The win put van Garderen into the yellow jersey, tied on time with Vande Velde, who now sits second overall with Rovny third at six seconds. Leipheimer now sits fourth overall, at eight seconds back.
“Today it was looking like a day like yesterday, It wasn’t 22 riders, but it was 12, and there were some big names up the road,” said van Garderen. “It wasn’t a weak breakaway.
“We were lucky to have Frank in there, he’s a strong climber and GC rider, so that took the pressure off the team; it was up to the other teams to chase. They did a good job chasing, and we put some guys on the front with 20km to go. It all worked out.”
That strong break included Alex Howes and David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp); Camilo Castiblanco and Rafael Infantino (EPM-UNE); Vincenzo Nibali and Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Cannondale); Mathias Frank (BMC Racing); Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan); Chris Baldwin (Bissell); Craig Lewis (Champion System); Matt Cooke (Energy); and Julien El Fares (Team Type 1-Sanofi).
EPM-UNE got that ball rolling, and 40 miles into the 99-mile stage from Montrose to Mt. Crested Butte the escapees had built an advantage of more than five minutes.
En route, Castiblanco led Cooke and Nibali over the first KOM, Cerro Summit, and likewise took the Blue Mesa Summit, this time ahead of Cooke and Lewis.
Cooke flatted out of the break, and thanks to a poor wheel change had a chase on his hands — he managed to fight his way back on with 50 miles to go (and a little help from the race caravan).
With 35 miles to go the break’s gap had dwindled to 4:20, and it stayed pegged there as the race rolled through Gunnison, where Howes took the sprint ahead of Baldwin and Lewis.
Back in the bunch, meanwhile, a crash took down Rubens Bertogliati and Georg Preidler (Team Type 1), Ben King (RadioShack) and Sergey Klimov (RusVelo).
At approximately the same time an attack up front shed Voigt, Nibali, Agnoli and El Fares. Nibali got back on just in time to see Zabriskie have a couple of digs, to no particular effect.
Sensing that the chasers might have left it too late, the break began trading attacks with 15 miles to go, then briefly settled back into a rhythm. Infantino briefly rolled off the front — but he, too, got nowhere and drifted back to the break.
With 10 miles remaining the peloton had closed to with three and a half minutes. Five miles further along they had pulled the break back to within two minutes, with Crested Butte in sight of the nine leaders.
Another touch of wheels in the bunch saw Lachlan Morton (Garmin) and Eduard Beltran (EPM-UNE) hit the deck.
Up front, Zabriskie led the break across the sprint line and the nine headed for the finale in Mt. Crested Butte. But its mucking about had allowed the chase to close to within less than a minute — and Castiblanco decided to go it alone on the final climb.
“Today was a complicated day to stay off the front. It would have been impossible if the riders hadn’t worked together, but fortunately, we were motivated, and we did work well together,” said Infantino. “But the riders in the peloton were better and caught us.
“We tried to stay away to win the stage, but it was very hard. There was just not enough power in the last kilometer.”
Castiblanco sat 10th overall at the start of the day, on the same time as race leader Tyler Farrar (Garmin) and stood to slip into the leader’s jersey and claim the mountains jersey to boot. But Frank bridged to him — and then shot past. He, too, was on the same time as Farrar and hoping to take the stage and the overall lead.
Frank hit the red kite all alone, then blew up as the bunch absorbed the break — and Tejay van Garderen rocketed forward with Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) on his wheel.
It was a two-man drag race to the line — a race van Garderen won with ease.
“I wasn’t going into the last 4km thinking I was going to win, but I knew I was going to try,” said van Garderen. “When I looked over my shoulder and I saw Christian Vande Velde on my wheel, I thought he was in a perfect position to outsprint me. But at this elevation, I think he may have had trouble with his acceleration.”
Nonetheless, van Garderen said, Vande Velde “was good in Utah, and he looks even better here now.”
“I think if I can hold him, and not let him get away, I can beat him in the time trial. I’m confident in saying that,” he continued. “But there are also guys like Ivan Rovny, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner, and there are two more summit finishes to go, as well as the Aspen stage, which is not easy. It’s far from over.”
Tom Danielson (Garmin) retained the climber’s jersey for another day. Teammate Farrar likewise held onto his green sprinter’s jersey. Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong) moved into the best-young-rider jersey, taking over from teammate Gavin Mannion. And Infantino was voted the stage’s most aggressive rider.
Wednesday brings stage 3, a 130-mile leg from Gunnison to Aspen that takes in the climbs of Cottonwood and Independence passes.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge.