Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Sportswear Development), 22, won the biggest race of his young career in stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge. The day’s stage went from Aspen to Crested Butte, over several major mountain passes.
A consummate breakaway artist, Carpenter spent the day out front in a variety of different groups, but in the end, his efforts on the climb up Kebler Pass earned him the victory.
Though the race was marred by rainy weather and muddy roads on the unpaved climb before Crested Butte, the young rider was unfazed. He even faced a more unusual curveball when race officials neutralized the descent and then stopped Carpenter and the rest of the field before restarting them all on the final paved part of the descent. The restart was based on the time gaps at the top of the penultimate climb.
Carpenter kept driving the pace, regardless of these surprises and was rewarded with a major win.
Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) netted another second place finish today, ahead of Tejay van Garderen (BMC), but today’s finish was a bit sweeter for the Boulder, Colorado-based rider, as he assumed the overall race lead.
Large, long-range breakaway
The day’s early breakaway finally stuck after the first intermediate sprint, about 16 miles into the 105.4-mile stage. Tyler Magner (Hincapie Sportswear Development) took maximum points. Race leader Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) was second, and Jure Kocjan (Team SmartStop) was third.
The early escape was a large one, including: Michael Torckler (Team SmartStop), Joe Lewis (Hincapie Sportswear Development), David de la Cruz (NetApp-Endura), Dion Smith (Hincapie Sportswear Development), Matej Mohoric (Cannondale), Jai Crawford (Drapac), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), Christopher Jones (UnitedHealthcare), Luis Davila (Jelly Belly), Kirk Carlsen (Jelly Belly), and Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Sportswear Development).
Over the first king of the mountains (KOM) climb, a category 1 ascent of McClure Summit, de la Cruz was first, followed by Jacques-Maynes, then Torckler. At that point, the break’s advantage was 3:10.
Torckler was the highest-placed rider in the break on GC, 59 seconds behind the Reijnen.
Garmin-Sharp and BMC were careful to maintain the peloton’s pace to avoid giving the break too much leash.
With about 27.5 miles to go, Torckler crept off the front of the break as the Kebler Pass climb kicked up.
Not wanting to be left out, Anthony, Carpenter, and Jacques-Maynes also left the group as the dirt road continued up at a steady grade. Their efforts split the chasing group, resulting in a new lead group with eight riders — Davila, Lewis, Carlsen, and Smith also bridged the gap.
Davila, the former Mexican national champion, was not satisfied with the group, and rode away on his own, bringing Jacques-Maynes along with 25 miles to go. Though they didn’t get away, the effort pared the breakaway down to six riders, with Lewis, Torckler, Anthony, and Carpenter catching back on.
As the climb eased, Mohoric, de la Cruz, and Torckler bridged up to the six leaders.
With the peloton only a minute behind, toward the top of the pass, the breakaway began to disintegrate.
Carpenter escaped alone, five miles from the top of the climb. Jacques-Maynes and Davila gave chase.
The stormy weather that had threatened all day, finally delivered the promise of rain, making the top of the Kebler Pass climb wet and muddy. Perhaps benefitting from those conditions, Carpenter extended his lead over the peloton to more than one minute. The remainder of the break was caught before the day’s second-to-last KOM.
On the climb’s final slopes, the day’s leader, Reijnen, was dropped from the peloton.
Neutralization and confusion in the rain
As he crested the climb, the lone leader’s advantage over the peloton had fallen to 45 seconds. Due to the inclement conditions, race officials neutralized the descent to Crested Butte.
However, there seemed to be some miscommunication between the officials and the peloton. The race officials stopped Carpenter, and then the rest of the field, when they reached pavement after a wet and muddy descent.
Tensions ran high in the front group, with one BMC rider shouting, “unacceptable” at the official. Van Garderen said “it’s a little late,” suggesting that his group did not ride the dirt descent in a neutralized manner. Michael Schär was also seen arguing with the official, indicating that BMC was making a bid to gain time on the race’s first mountain stage.
After the race, Schär tweeted, “Is it possible to DSQ the jury of a race? If yes, today we should do it in @TourofColorado — no reason to stop the race AFTER the danger zone”
Despite protests, the officials started Carpenter with a 45 second gap. Once the leader reached Crested Butte, his gap was out to 1:20. The peloton’s chase seemed to have been disrupted by the stoppage.
The 22-year-old kept grinding up the final climb to Mount Crested Butte, ripping off his jacket and pushing on through the rain.
Behind, the peloton’s final selection — about 16 riders — chased, but remained out of sight of the leader.
With one kilometer remaining, van Garderen and Howes attacked out of the field, quickly eating into Carpenter’s advantage.
But the young Hincapie Sportswear Development rider would not be denied the glory of a stage win, crossing with a six-second lead, enough time to raise his arms to the rainy sky in celebration.
Behind, Howes came around van Garderen for second place. With Reijnen out of the GC picture, the Garmin-Sharp rider took the overall lead with his final effort into Mount Crested Butte.
As for his overall GC ambitions, Howes said, “I don’t think there’s … everyone knows I can’t time trial for my life. This is not my jersey to keep.”
The new leader seemed unfazed by the day’s weather, saying, “We both [he and van Garderen] grew up in pretty cool climates, we’ve spent a lot of times training in nasty Colorado weather, so we got some cold, nasty Colorado weather.”
Wednesday, the race will tackle what may be its hardest mountain stage, a 96-mile ride over Monarch pass to Salida, then back up the pass to finish at Monarch Ski Area.