TELLURIDE, Colorado (VN) — Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) sprinted to victory in stage 1 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge on Monday.
Garmin seemed intent on taking the opener one way or another, via breakaway or a sprint, and a big break went away early in the 125.7-mile stage from Durango to Telluride, containing nearly two dozen riders — Dave Zabriskie, Peter Stetina, Lachlan Morton and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp); George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team); Matt Cooke and Serghei Tvetcov (Exergy); Freddy Piamonte and Eduardo Beltran (EPM-UNE); Michael Creed and Andrew Bajadali (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies); George Bennett and Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan); Timmy Duggan and Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Cannondale); Ivan Rovny (RusVelo); Jeremy Vennell and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell); Ryan Roth (SpiderTech-C10); Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); and Tanel Kangert (Astana).
“I’m pretty familiar with today’s stage,” said Danielson.”I told everyone it would be a hard start, an opportunity for us to mess it up. Team director Charly Wegelius said, ‘Let’s take it to the race, cause a split, make some chaos.’ And it almost worked.”
Indeed, it almost did. Said Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare): ”We went out of town so fast today and it just completely blew to pieces. Everyone’s fresh from day one, but at altitude that usually means it takes everyone a little bit of time to get getting.”
The hard start, coupled with a mountainous course, altitude and wet weather, whittled the break down over the miles until Danielson was left all alone at the front.
He crossed the Lizard Head Pass KOM alone, but was joined on the descent by teammate Peter Stetina, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Eduard Alexander Beltran Suarez (EPM-UNE).
Then the two Garmins dropped their mates and went over the Alta KOM together, holding a 35-second advantage on a regrouping peloton as they raced down to Telluride.
They would not keep it — the bunch ran them down on the descent — and though Ben King (RadioShack) and Ted King (Liquigas) tried to outfox the sprinters with a late escape, it was not to be.
Said Sutherland: “Unfortunately, today was one of those in-between days that those boys (Jake Keough and Robert Förster) are in the grupetto and at the top of the climb I look around and there’s Tyler and Freddy (Rodriguez) and I thought, ‘Whew, this is going to be harder than Utah.’”
The sprinters’ teams began organizing themselves, and with 1km to go Garmin-Sharp was on the front. Sutherland took over on the sharp end in the finale, but Farrar was locked onto his wheel, and the Garmin man shot past him to take a commanding victory — his first in more than a year — and the first leader’s yellow jersey of the Colorado tour, crossing a dozen bike lengths in front of second-placed Alessandro Bazzana (Team Type 1-Sanofi). Damiano Caruso (Liquigas) finished third.
“Today I knew there was a chance for a sprint, but we weren’t riding for the sprint, we wanted to catch some guys napping and get Tom and Pete up road and get time on GC,” Farrar said. “It’s nice I was able to salvage the day with a win.”
Farrar added that racing the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge marked the first time he’d tackled a big U.S. stage race since 2009.
“It’s special as an American to race in your home country, fans cheering just for you, for our team,” he said. “Colorado is important. It’s a big bonus for us.”
Danielson didn’t get the victory, but he did collect a nifty King of the Mountains jersey with 23 points to Beltran’s 15 and Piamonte’s 15.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I haven’t had that much fun in a bike race in a long time.”
Farrar added the green sprinter’s jersey to his haul from the day, with 15 points. Bazzana is second with 12 points and Caruso third with 10.
Best young rider’s jersey went to Gavin Mannion (Bontrager-Livestrong). Beltran is second and teammate Javier Gomez third.
And Stetina took the most-agressive jersey — giving Garmin four jerseys on the day.
Tuesday brings stage 2, a 99-mile leg from Montrose to Mt. Crested Butte.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from stage 1 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge.