Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) out-sprinted Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) in Aspen to win stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge.
The two young Americans — actually close friends in their adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado — made a daring escape on the final rise into Aspen. They jumped across a small gap to Javier Megias (Novo Nordisk), who made a solo move moments earlier.
“There was a group on our heels; we couldn’t hesitate,” Reijnen said. “I threw up in that last kilometer, Alex said, ‘Come on Kiel!’ But I was just trying to breathe. [In the] last turn, we were both committed; it was just a matter of whoever had the kick.”
Howes led out the two-man sprint on the final, straight drag in downtown Aspen, but he couldn’t match Reijnen’s turn of speed.
“I train with Kiel pretty much every day,” said Howes. “I knew he’d be a good rider today. Honestly I had questions about myself, pretty much full-on since spring. It’s been a long season. To be honest, mentally, I’m losing it [laughs]. Physically it’s in there, it just takes a bit of digging. When I looked back and saw Kiel there, I figured it was 50/50; when we’re training and sprint against each other, that’s how it usually comes out.”
The early breakaway was initiated by Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare). He was soon joined by Joshua Berry (Team SmartStop), Johnathan Freter (Jelly Belly), Ben Jaques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman), and Greg Daniel (Bissell Development Team).
Another group of three then bridged to the leaders, and it included Lachlan Norris (Drapac), Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman), and Luis Davila (Jelly Belly).
As the break approached Aspen to complete the first circuit, Berry was dropped, and the front group had a 1:35 advantage over the peloton.
Cannondale began to work at the front of the field to manage the gap.
Summerhill won the first bonus sprint in Aspen, attacking out of the break. Davila earned second-place points, and Daniel was third.
With two laps to go, the peloton was only 1:15 behind the leaders.
Norris won the day’s first king of the mountains sprint in Snowmass, with Davila second and Jaques-Maynes taking third.
On the second KOM sprint, Norris again took maximum points, followed by Jaques-Maynes and then Cooke.
Heading into the second intermediate sprint in Aspen, the break’s lead was down to 55 seconds.
Summerhill took the bonus points at the line in Aspen, followed by Freter and Jaques-Maynes.
Jaques-Maynes attacked with 15 miles remaining, as the peloton was bearing down on the break, only 25 seconds behind. He rode across the KOM line at Snowmass alone, adding to his tally in the mountains classification.
The lone leader’s advantage held steady around 25 seconds, but then it extended to 35 seconds as earlier breakaway riders were absorbed by the peloton.
An attack-filled finale
Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) then attacked out of the field and bridged across to Jaques-Maynes, but the peloton was close behind and ended the Jamis-Hagens Berman rider’s escape with 5.7 miles to go. However, before the catch, Jaques-Maynes was able to win the final KOM sprint and secure the leader’s jersey in that competition.
Voigt carried on, a mere 10 seconds off the front of the group.
With 4.4 miles to go, a strong effort by Garmin-Sharp, at the front of a greatly reduced main peloton, brought back the German.
Ben Hermans (BMC) attacked the field with 3.4 miles remaining, initiating the hostilities in the front group. He was quickly brought back, as Garmin-Sharp continued to control the pace.
“BMC had a lot of cards to play there,” Howes said. “They were kind of messing around to put a little pressure on us. We were in a fortunate position where we could kind of hang back. … That’s racing. Sometimes you bluff, sometimes it punches you in the face, and sometimes it works out.”
“We are trying to spread out our options a little bit, and I think it worked out perfectly in the end,” said Tejay van Garderen (BMC) of his team’s strategy. “Everyone who gained a little time on me, I am pretty confident Ben Hermans can beat. And everyone who is on my time, I am pretty confident that I can beat. So that really spreads out our chances to win this race.”
On a slight rise heading into Aspen, Javier Megias (Novo Nordisk) took a stab with a solo move, gaining a slight advantage on the tree-lined streets.
Then, Reijnen and Howes went across the gap as the leader saw one kilometer to go, with Reijnen driving the pace into the final 750 meters.
Howes made his move before the final corner, entering the last right-hand bend ahead of his companion, but Reijnen was right on his wheel.
With the remainder of the peloton breathing down his neck, Reijnen jumped and never looked back, crossing the line with one arm in the air, and the other on his heart.
“Every one of my teammates should be up here [on the podium],” said Reijnen. “They felt I really had a chance today. It was motivating for them and motivating for me. I owe this victory to them.
“The day went to plan. Danny was in the break. I had a feeling Cannondale would take the front, but it seemed [Elia] Viviani was having trouble with the altitude. With them on the front they will sag the climbs [go slower]. We could only let that happen for so long before we stepped in to make it hard. I asked Chris Jones to keep the pace high to keep sprinters off. Danny came back [from the breakaway] and did an amazing pull to take me into the bottom of the left-hander at Snowmass. Once Chris split off, I had Lucas with me. [Of the] 25 guys there, I knew I was the fastest guy.”
Reijnen will wear the leader’s jersey tomorrow on stage 2’s 105-mile ride from Aspen to Crested Butte.