ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — Which Rafal Majka has shown up to the USA Pro Challenge?
Is it the rider who told the press Sunday that he didn’t expect to have adapted to altitude in time to contend for the overall victory?
Or is it the rider who finished sixth overall at the Giro d’Italia, won two mountain stages and the KOM title at the Tour de France, won the Tour of Poland, and then finished with the front group in Aspen on Monday, alongside defending champion Tejay van Garderen?
On Sunday, Majka told the media that he expected to have difficulty racing in Colorado, having arrived only four days earlier, adding that his first day riding at high altitude in Colorado felt like his “first time riding a bike.”
On Monday, Majka finished 12th on the opening stage, 12 seconds behind race leader Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare). The Polish rider finished in a group of 14 riders, one spot behind van Garderen (BMC Racing), and four spots ahead of Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp).
On a short stage that climbed to 8,200 feet on three occasions, with a total of 7,000 feet of elevation gain, the Tinkoff-Saxo rider showed no issues with the thin air.
Though the stage was only raced for 2.5 hours, some riders finished a full 12 minutes down, with Graham Briggs (Rapha-Condor) cut, for finishing outside the time limit, and Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly), abandoning.
Majka, however, looked to be continuing on the form that saw him win the Tour of Poland earlier this month, the continuation of a string of eye-opening results this year.
“I could see that Majka was good,” Danielson said. “He’s going to be a guy we have to watch for the overall. It was an easy day, not too telling, but I was surprised by how small the group was at the end.”
Majka’s teammate, Michael Rogers, finished 109th on the stage, 5:15 behind Reijnen.
“It was tough out there,” Rogers said. “It really broke on those last two climbs, as we expected. It was a bit tougher than we thought it would be, to be honest.
“I’m glad [Majka] is up there,” Rogers continued. “It’s hard to tell whether he’ll perform. He’s come off a very heavy period, much like myself, with the Giro, and then the Tour, and obviously he’s gone on to ride, and win, Poland. There has to be a down period as well. We can’t go win races all year round, so what goes up, must come down. And today was a bit of a special stage, really. It’s a short, tough stage, not everyone is acclimated to this kind of altitude. I think the amount of riders spaced out along the course shows that it’s pretty tough going.”
Stage 2 delivers three categorized climbs, including McClure Pass, the dirt roads of Kebler Pass, which tops out at 9,980 feet, and the short, punchy finishing climb to Mt. Crested Butte.
On stage 3 the peloton tackles Monarch Pass, which tops out at 11,312 feet, before descending the eastern slope of the pass, riding two nine-mile loops through Salida, and then returning to tackle 20 miles of climbing up the eastern slope to the finish, at Monarch Mountain ski resort, at 10,820 feet.