BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (VN) — As the queen stage of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge approached its climactic climb, pre-race favorite Tom Danielson was in the catbird seat.
Danielson’s Garmin-Sharp team had largely controlled the day, keeping tabs on an early, nine-man breakaway and working to slot its leader into position for the decisive climb of Bachelor Gulch — where a GC showdown with Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was widely anticipated.
“The day’s objective was definitely to focus on that last major climb and put Tejay under pressure,” Garmin director Charly Wegelius told VeloNews. “That meant that David Millar and Rohan Dennis had to do an awful lot of work at the front. The quality of the riders in that early breakaway was obviously extremely high, guys like Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) and [Tony] Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard). So they did a really great job. And then the rest of the team really pulled it together on the climbs.”
Everything was going according to plan for the Colorado-based Garmin squad. Up to a point.
As the two GC favorites hit the Bachelor Gulch climb, each was accompanied by a pair of teammates — with Danielson in the slipstream of overnight race leader Lachlan Morton and 2012 winner Christian Vande Velde, and van Garderen glued to the wheels of Michael Schär and stage 2 winner Mathias Frank.
With five kilometers to go to the summit, Vande Velde dropped off. At 3.5km, Morton did the same, depositing Danielson into a group of seven, including van Garderen, Frank, Darwin Atapuma (Colombia), Damiano Caruso (Cannondale), and Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman).
By the top it was down to three: Danielson, van Garderen, and Acevedo.
Danielson crested the rain-soaked climb in the lead, with van Garderen and Acevedo on his wheel.
But as the GC heavyweights began their descent into Avon, things went sideways for the Garmin leader. Danielson descended timidly as van Garderen and Acevedo powered away, working in tandem toward complementary goals: a stage win for Acevedo and GC time for van Garderen.
“There’s not much to say. Tejay got the better of me,” Danielson told VeloNews . “I didn’t feel comfortable going as fast as they did on the descent. I felt strong on the climb, but obviously Tejay was strong, too.
“I did my best, and the team did a great job all day, and especially on the last climb. I’m happy with how I climbed, but I’m frustrated to lose time, again, on the downhill. I’m not a bad descender, but Tejay really is one of the best. Put him on a descent with another rider, and that’s the situation I’ve been in twice now at this race. Hats off to him. Time trial tomorrow, may the best man win.”
In the end, Danielson would finish fourth behind Acevedo, van Garderen, and Frank, losing 22 seconds on the day.
Van Garderen, who crossed the line in Beaver Creek a half wheel behind Acevedo, assumed the race’s GC leadership in advance of Friday’s Vail Pass time trial. The BMC rider leads teammate Frank by four seconds, with Acevedo and Danielson trailing by 30 and 40 seconds, respectively. Overnight leader Morton dropped to fifth overall, at 1:17.
Morton spoke to VeloNews after the stage, having donned a different jersey: that of best young rider.
“We executed the plan we came up with and you know, in the end it was up to Tom,” he said. “I did that as best I could.”
“To see a guy like Lachlan wearing the leader’s jersey and putting it all on the line for his teammate says a lot,” said Wegelius. “I think it was representative of the effort the team made.”
After the race, van Garderen reflected on the stage.
“Garmin did good job, they whittled the field down to nothing,” the new race leader said. “But I think they may have underestimated me. We had Larry [Warbasse] in the break, and we had Mathias up there with me, so I was in a good position. The descent was wet and twisty. Janier took one of the first corners hot and I saw that Tom was a little timid, so I thought, ‘okay, let’s go for it.’ Janier showed incredible skill on the descent. We were able to get a gap, and worked well together to the line.”
Asked whether he might have retained the race leader’s jersey, given the opportunity, Morton was philosophical.
“We had a plan to set up Tom, so when we made our plans this morning I knew I’d probably lose the jersey,” Morton said. “In hindsight, maybe we could have ridden a little bit differently. I didn’t realize I was going to feel as good as I felt today. … But it’s always easy to say what you could have done. I’m happy. But I’ll be more happy if one of us wins.”
Wegelius said it was time to hit reset ahead of Friday’s climbing time trial.
“We never expected today to be easy or straightforward,” said Wegelius. “Tommy just needs to press ‘Control, Alt, Delete’ on today and just focus on his best performance.”