Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Leopard) first gained national attention in 2011, when the American rode to victory in the road race at the USA Cycling Professional National Championships. He had suffered for his teammates at the Amgen Tour of California a week before that, gaining their respect by running bottles and keeping them out of trouble as Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer finished 1-2 overall.
Fast forward to this season.
Specifically, Thursday’s stage 5 at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
With a mountainous route that contained four rated climbs, it was a day for the climbers to shine. That included Busche.
The 28-year-old launched a daring attack on the hors categorie climb to the ski resort of Valmorel with around six kilometers left in the 139km stage. He quickly joined sole leader Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) and then kept going, passing the Belgian as he attempted to ride solo the rest of the way to the finish line.
He almost made it.
Busche was caught by Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Chris Froome (Sky) with about 200 meters to go. Froome went on to win and take the race lead, while Contador out-muscled Busche for second.
“’Shoot! Go!’ Those were the only things I was thinking when I saw Froome approaching at less than 200 meters to go,” Busche said on RadioShack’s website. “There was not much I could do. I gave all that I had and I come away with real mixed emotions.”
Busche was part of an earlier breakaway that grew to 15 riders during the stage. Every one of them was eventually reeled in by the main pack, Busche included. But on that final climb to the finish, his legs returned to climbing mode and he decided to make a run for it.
“Just before the final climb I had bad legs but when we hit the climb they felt good and I did the climb at my own rhythm,” he said. “I caught [Wellens] and was left alone in the front. I gave everything I had so I have no regrets. In the end I got nothing, but third is ok.”
Third is more than ok, especially in a field of this caliber. With the Tour de France starting June 29, the Dauphiné is a final tuneup for many riders. The other is the Tour de Suisse, which kicks off Saturday and will feature Busche’s 2010 Tour champion teammate Andy Schleck.
Froome was helped by teammate Richie Porte on Thursday’s final ascent; the duo could prove deadly at the Tour, where they will chase Sky’s second maillot jaune after Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 win.
Busche, who notched a sixth-place overall result at the Amgen Tour of California last month, is not scheduled to ride in the Tour this year. Instead, he’ll take a break and rest up for the second half of the season.
Thursday’s performance, however, proved that he is able to hang with the big boys on the difficult climbs. And he’s willing to do it again, if the team asks him to.
“The best chance for me to win a stage is this way, to come out of a breakaway,” he said. “When the team gives me the green light to try again, I’ll do it, but I will be happy to help Haimar [Zubeldia, currently 15th overall] get a nice overall result.”