Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing) won USA Pro Challenge stage 5 in Breckenridge with a decisive attack on the final climb.
Picking up where his teammate Jens Voigt left off on Thursday, Didier rode an aggressive race, attacking early, alone, on the day’s category two climb up Hoosier Pass.
His first attempt was not to be, as three of his early breakaway companions chased him down on the long, wet, cold descent into Breckenridge.
However, the Trek Factory rider had one more chance, and he took it on Boreas Pass, attacking Janier Acevedo (Garmin-Sharp), Ben King (Garmin-Sharp), and Rob Britton (Team SmartStop). The three others could not respond to his effort on the steep pitch above Breckenridge.
Britton and Acevedo chased valiantly on the descent. On the final drag through town, it looked for a moment that Didier would suffer the same indignity that Voigt did — to be caught in the final kilometer — but not this time.
The Luxembourger put his head down, grasped the drops and powered to the win, mere seconds ahead of the two chasers.
“I saw the 500 meters [sign] when we passed the line [the first time through Breckenridge],” said Didier. “I knew it would be fast. The last kilometer was tough, lots [of] corners. The downhill, you didn’t need to brake, with wide corners; [it was] just go, go, go. It was a little wet though, so I didn’t take so much risk.
“I am super happy because I don’t win many races, but the ones I do win are in tough conditions. It’s a little strange but it’s like that. … So in the middle part of the race, when there was a lot of rain, I stayed focused, put on my rain jacket and gloves, so I was prepared for the finale.”
Behind the leaders, the GC group also saw some fireworks on the final climb.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) attacked on Boreas Pass, and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) followed. Both solidified their first and second GC placings, respectively.
“There was a battle at the end for GC time,” said van Garderen. “I was glad to take a few more seconds on Danielson. But Majka is still pretty close and making me a bit nervous for the time trial tomorrow.”
Ben Hermans (BMC) was knocked out of his podium position. Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly) now sits third, 37 seconds back. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) remains fourth, while Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) moved up to fifth overall.
“He was struggling from the cold,” van Garderen said of Hermans. “He got distanced on Hoosier Pass. … Maybe we could have gone one-two in the race. Hermans was riding strong, but if you have a bad day, then that can be the end of it. I know that better than anyone.”
A breakaway of 12 riders got away from the field early in the day.
Notably, the group included Acevedo, who won stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge in Beaver Creek last year.
The peloton showed little initiative, allowing the gap to stretch to over four minutes, as the riders faced a cool, rainy day in the Colorado high country.
“It was absolutely miserable out there,” said King. “Hard to know how your body will react in those conditions; with hail, rain. I don’t know [what the] temperatures were, but it was hard. It was a war of attrition.”
Jelly Belly’s Luis Lemus won the only intermediate points sprint of the day in Fairplay. Jai Crawford (Drapac) was second, and Richard Handley (Rapha Condor-JLT) was third.
Out of the front group, three leaders forged ahead on Hoosier Pass: King, Didier, and Britton.
As they reached the top of the course, Didier got a small gap and won the king of the mountains sprint.
Acevedo followed close behind the two chasers and caught them shortly into the descent.
Back in the main field, Hoosier Pass took its toll, splitting a small group of 11 riders off the front. Race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC) safely made the front group, and they were 2:45 behind the leaders at the crest of the climb.
Didier’s advantage over the chasing trio was a mere 10 seconds with nine miles to go, as the descent leveled out on the approach to Breckenridge.
With 8.5 miles remaining, the leader was caught.
Entering Breckenridge, the four frontrunners had 45 seconds over the eight chasers remaining from the early breakaway.
Final test on Boreas Pass
After 100 miles of racing, the leaders faced the day’s final test, a steep, short climb up Boreas Pass.
King attacked on the run-in to the last climb, forcing Didier to chase with Acevedo on his wheel.
As the road pitched up, King had a small gap of 10 seconds.
However, his move didn’t stick, and Didier countered, quickly gapping his three companions.
“I tried to keep pace high for Janier [Acevedo],” said King. “Laurent attacked at the top. … At about 300 meters from the top of the last KOM is where I got caught. He came over the top of me with a huge acceleration. I couldn’t hold his wheel.”
The Trek Factory rider crested the climb alone, but not out of sight.
After the blazing fast final descent to the finish, Didier had a six-second advantage over Britton and Acevedo with one kilometer to go.
Britton chased hard on the final straight in Breckenridge, but it wasn’t enough to catch Didier, the Luxembourg national time trial champion, who held them off by a few bike lengths. Acevedo finished second; Britton was third.
“It’s really nice to win,” said Didier. “Before when I was a Continental rider, I won some races, but always in the rain. You need to be focused in the head and believe. Some riders suffer a lot with the cold. During the year, I don’t have many possibilities to ride for myself. I think last year, I did several breakaways, but never [got] a win in the end.”
“[I’m] happy for Didier,” said King. “He’s a deserving winner, but it was disappointing to come so close and not win.”
The drama on Boreas Pass wasn’t exclusive to the leaders. On the final climb, van Garderen attacked the group of GC favorites that had survived the wet, cold ride over Hoosier Pass.
Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly), and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) were able to respond, and rode to the finish with the race leader.
Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) missed the split, but held on to finish only five seconds behind the van Garderen group.
Saturday will see the USA Pro Challenge tackle the storied Vail Pass hill climb time trial, a 10 mile test that finishes at 9,600 feet above sea level.
“It’s a tough TT,” van Garderen said. “Everything [comes] down to equipment choice, to pacing, to how to warm up at that kind of altitude this late in the race. It’s completely different. Last year, even though I won, I got my pacing wrong because I really started to die there in the last kilometer and a half. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Hopefully I get it right this time. The first part flat, the second part is uphill. It’s a mix between normal TT and uphill TT. It’s a tricky one to get right.
“There’s a little bit of nerves for the TT, but I’m confident. All the guys around me on GC, I’ve beaten in time trials before, and I have a pretty comfortable margin. Even if I lose the stage, I just have to manage the gap. I’m nervous, but confident.”