BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (VN) — Three months ago, Matt Cooke was riding for an amateur team, in search of a lifeline to prolong his pro career after Exergy, his team of two years, folded unceremoniously last fall.
Tuesday in Breckenridge, Cooke stood atop the king of the mountains podium at the USA Pro Challenge for a second consecutive day, the polka-dot jersey covering up the Jamis-Hagens Berman jersey he only started wearing last month.
After spending the first part of the year riding for the amateur Champion System-Stan’s NoTubes squad, Jamis signed Cooke in June, in part, to bolster support in the mountains for its GC leader, Colombian Janier Acevedo.
Acevedo won stage 2 the Amgen Tour of California in May, finishing third overall behind winner Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). He also won a climbing stage at the SRAM Tour of the Gila in May, and finished third at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah earlier this month behind race winner Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp).
Cooke, a talented climber who won a stage atop Mont Megantic at the Tour de Beauce last year, has made it into breakaways on both of the first two stages this week. He now finds himself with a six-point lead in the KOM standings, ahead of race leader Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp).
On Monday in Aspen, Cooke, a former national amateur road champion, said the team “might spare a couple of guys,” to help preserve his lead in the climber’s competition, adding, “Honestly, Janier really is a GC threat. He could take the whole thing.”
However, after the stage 2 finish in Breckenridge — where Acevedo lost 41 seconds to Morton, 30 seconds to van Garderen, and 12 seconds to Danielson — the team’s focus was less certain.
“Acevedo is the top guy on our team,” Cooke said. “He took third overall at California, and again at Utah. We have to put all of our chips into helping him. Hopefully preserving the KOM jersey is a priority, too. Lachlan is incredible, Tejay incredible, Tom is incredible, they’re all really, really good riders, but for us, Acevedo is our top guy.
“I made it into the breakaway the first day, and with Independence Pass straight out of the start today, I knew I had to try to preserve the KOM jersey — you have to do it if you can,” Cooke continued. “If all I had to do [to help Acevedo in the mountains] was pedal lightly and then hit the base of the climb for him, I could do that. But I think he can follow those other guys, and at this point, I’m honestly pretty tired, so I’m not sure how much help I would be. It’s a priority to keep the KOM jersey, but Acevedo is a priority as well. I don’t know that you put one over the other.”
Jamis team manager Sebastian Alexandre conceded that Acevedo didn’t have a great day on Tuesday; though he made it over Independence and Hoosier Pass, the Colombian climber suffered on the steep pitches of Moonstone Road and over Boreas Pass.
“He didn’t feel super at the end,” Alexandre said. “It was a hard day, one of the hardest races I’ve seen in the U.S. in the past few years. There were a lot of attacks, and the breakaway came back, then a breakaway went again, and then it came back, and some teams needed to work because they were not happy with the guys in the final move. It was a hard race, and everyone suffered with the altitude. Janier didn’t feel good on the last climb, and he finished in a small group at the front. He’s still close. He lost some time to Tejay, and I think Tejay showed he’s in good form, but [Wednesday] is another day, and [Thursday] is the queen stage [Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek], and that is going to be hard, and we’ll hope that he will be better that day.”
As for the team’s strategy moving forward, Alexandre echoed Cooke’s sentiments regarding keeping all options open.
“I think it’s still early in the race. I have a good team, and I think I can try to work on both options,” Alexandre said. “I don’t want to give up on our GC chances. Of course we are going to support Matt, but I don’t want to give up on my GC options on stage 2. We will keep working the same way we started race — we will try to be aggressive, we will try to be in the moves, and we will save Janier as our GC guy.”