Janier Acevedo won stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge in Beaver Creek, Colorado, on Thursday. Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) followed a late attack from Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) in the 165-kilometer leg from Steamboat Springs to take the stage victory.
Van Garderen was second, preferring to take the yellow leader’s jersey rather than contest the stage, and assumed the overall lead in the seven-day tour. Mathias Frank (BMC Racing) was third and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) was fourth.
Van Garderen leads Frank in the overall by four seconds. Acevedo is third, at 30 seconds, and Danielson is four, at 40 seconds.
“I feel very proud of the season I’m having,” said Acevedo, a stage winner at May’s Amgen Tour of California. “It’s amazing to win in California and in Colorado, with all the big names here. I’m very happy with my teammates and the whole team — that they all work for me, and help me during all the races, it’s a dream for me.”
The third USA Pro Challenge continues Friday with the 16km stage 5 time trial at Vail Pass.
The 2013 Pro Challenge’s hardest day?
Race organizers billed its fourth day the queen stage. With five categorized climbs, the rolling route finished with the 9km Cat. 1 Bachelor Gulch ascent and the 3.5km Cat. 3 finish climb to Beaver Creek, all within the final 20km.
Nine riders made their way off the front after 22km: Danny Pate and Kanstantin Sitsou (Sky); Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard); Larry Warbasse (BMC Racing); Timmy Duggan and Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff); Davide Villella (Cannondale); Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly-Kenda); and mountains classification leader Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman).
Cooke took top points at the CR27 KOM, the first of the route’s five climbs.
After chasing for more than 30 minutes, Jason McCartney (Bissell) joined the leaders, making an even 10 escapees with 120km to go.
The group took a maximum advantage of 4:25, but with Gallopin just 41 seconds back on GC, Garmin was keen to keep the group on a short leash. Cooke again took maximum points at the day’s second KOM, at CO131, and the gap began to drop.
With 70km to go, the leaders’ advantage was down to 3:55. Five kilometers later, it was down to 2:55 and Sitsou attacked the group, forcing a split.
Gallopin, Villella, Warbasse, and Rogers were able to follow, but McCartney, Cooke, Tvetcov, Pate, and Duggan could not.
With 23km to go, the five leaders had 2:20 on the peloton. Garmin continued to lead the peloton as the climb neared, but BMC Racing began massing its riders near the front to position second-overall Mathias Frank and Tejay van Garderen.
Rogers countered Sitsou and soon found himself alone, riding onto the final approach of the Cat. 1 Bachelor Gulch climb.
Morton leaves the Bachelor Gulch party early
Christian Vande Velde led Morton until 5km to go to the summit when the American pulled off the front, leaving Morton and Danielson at the head of the group. Behind them, Michael Schär and Frank led teammate van Garderen.
“At the bottom of Bachelor Gulch, the pace was really hard,” said van Garderen. “It was just an insanely hard tempo. The tempo actually went down a bit at the top.”
The pressure from Morton cut the peloton down roughly 20 riders with 4km to go on the climb. Darwin Atapuma (Colombia) was still there. Soon, though, Morton was blown. With 3.5km to go on the climb, the Australian peeled off, leaving Danielson with a just seven riders, including van Garderen, Frank, Atapuma, Damiano Caruso (Cannondale), and Janier Acevedo (Jamis).
“Garmin did good job, they whittled the field down to nothing,” said van Garderen. “They did a good job, but I think they may have underestimated me. We had Larry in the break, and we had Mathias up there with me, so I was in a good position.”
Acevedo wasn’t willing to wait long, and as Gallopin and Co. came back, the Colombian jumped through the group. Van Garderen led the chase from behind and Acevedo was soon neutralized.
“I saw that Tom only had one rider left, and the pace was not that hard, so I tried to go,” said Acevedo. “I wanted to see if Tejay could go with me, but once he didn’t go, I decided to wait for the end of the stage to try to win.”
The new makeup of the van Garderen group comprised Frank and Warbasse, Danielson, Acevedo, Caruso, and Sitsou.
Still, Rogers led by 15 seconds.
Warbasse drove the pace high up on the climb, just four riders with him: van Garderen, Frank, Danielson, and Acevedo. The American neo-pro was soon gone, leaving two BMC riders.
With 14km to go, Danielson pulled the group past Rogers, who could not hold onto the back wheel.
The pace at the front drove a wedge back to Morton’s group. With 12km to go, the gap was 45 seconds.
When the road pitched with 1200 meters to go, Danielson accelerated, cutting Frank off the back of the group. The Swiss rider fought his way back onto Acevedo’s wheel, but not for long. With 800 meters to the summit, the leaders were three.
Danielson lunged left and right over his bike, van Garderen planted firmly on his wheel, and Acevedo appeared to be in trouble. Rain began falling harder as they crested the climb, Danielson the first to summit.
Van Garderen strikes on the descent
Van Garderen pushed over the top and accelerated away from Danielson high up on the descent. Acevedo followed the young American — fourth in Tuesday’s stage to Breckenridge — as they rode aggressively down to Avon. The finale was shaping up as a battle between the two riders who faced off in temperatures above 110 Fahrenheit in stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California in May. On that day, van Garderen did not follow Acevedo when he attacked high on the Tramway climb at Palm Springs. The American would go on to win the overall, with Acevedo third.
“The descent was wet and twisty,” said van Garderen. “Janier took one of the first corners hot, I saw that Tom was a little timid, and I thought, ‘okay, let’s go for it.’ Janier showed inedible skill on the descent. We were able to get a gap, and worked well together to the line.”
Danielson closed on the leading tandem as they approached the floor of the Vail Valley, but was joined by Frank before making contact. Acevedo led van Garderen on drying roads. The leaders rolled onto the finish climb with five seconds on the two pursuers.
“I actually tried to go as easy as I could on the downhill,” said Acevedo. “I tried not to take risks on the downhill. We worked well together, and we made it to the line together.”
With Frank chasing, van Garderen was able to follow Acevedo on the lower portion of the Cat. 3 climb to the ski area, but when Danielson and Frank began to fade, van Garderen began swapping pulls.
The leading duo pushed out their advantage on the 3.5km climb. At the finish, Acevedo rolled easily over the line, half-a-wheel ahead of van Garderen. Both men celebrated.
“My goal was to distance Tom,” said van Garderen. “Janier’s goal was the stage win. We had different objectives. We worked well together to help each other with each others’ goals.”
Thirteen seconds later, Frank rolled through on his own, Danielson a further nine seconds down the road.
“Losing contact on the descent, I would think Tom might be a little frustrated, that would be understandable,” said van Garderen. “It’s important to remember that every inch of the road, we are racing on it. If you have a weakness in any area, it shows through. If you have the skill set that Janier and I showed on the wet descent, you have to take advantage of it. Vincenzo Nibali has won, or podiumed, at grand tours based on his descending skills. It’s part of the game.”
Chad Beyer (Champion System) was fifth on the day, 21 seconds ahead of the yellow jersey group. Morton had lost the jersey and BMC Racing had scored a major GC blow in a race decided by less than 25 seconds in each of the first two editions.
“I’m confident, but nothing is ever given,” said van Garderen, who lost the leader’s jersey in Vail in 2011. “I had a 35-second lead in 2011, going into the time trial, and I lost 35 seconds and another 11. The thing I have learned is not be too confident, pace myself, keep my wits about me, manage the gap, and just go through the motions the way I would approach any other TT, whether I had the jersey or not.”