In an epic day of racing, Stage 3 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge came to a close with Colorado-resident Tom Danielson (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda taking a solo breakaway to the finish line in Aspen. With the peloton following close behind, Damiano Caruso (ITA) of Liquigas-Cannondale claimed second in the stage and Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek took third on a course packed with cheering fans. And in a very close fight for the GC, Danielson’s Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda teammate Christian Vande Velde (USA) claimed the Exergy Leader Jersey.
“I’m incredibly proud of the team and what we did today, and every day,” said Vande Velde. “Especially with how aggressive we’ve been. If nothing else, it has been a rewarding and fruitful experience.”
Stage 3 took the riders on a 130.6 mile ride from Gunnison to downtown Aspen, facing them with the two epic passes of Cottonwood and Independence Pass. After rolling out of a neutral start in Gunnison, the riders showed they were ready to compete, immediately reaching speeds of 35 mph. With a breakaway of about 18 riders forming leading into the first Waste Management sprint in Almont, the results were Jesse Anthony (USA) of Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, Kiel Reijnen (USA) of Team Type 1-SANOFI and Serghei Tvetcov (MOL) of Team Exergy, respectively.
The BMC Racing Team led the front of the field, riding hard and trying to make sure the break didn’t get too far up the road as the riders approached the first Nissan KOM of the day – Cat. 3 Taylor Park (9,526 ft.). Camilo Castiblanco (COL) of EPM-UNE took max points, followed by Team Exergy riders Serghei Tvetcov (MOL) and Matt Cooke (USA).
As the riders approached the second KOM of the day – Cat. 1 Cottonwood Pass (12,126 ft.) – there was some reshuffling in the break with Anthony trying to make a move, getting caught and Tvetcov, Reijnen and Valerio Agnoli (ITA) of Liquigas-Cannondale all dropping back to the peloton.
With 1 km to go until reaching Cottonwood Pass, the break dwindled to only five riders, including Danielson, Fabio Aru (ITA) of Astana Pro Team, Dave Zabriskie (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, Francisco Jarley Colorado Hernandez (COL) of EPM-UNE and Jeffry Louder (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team. Colorado Hernandez reached the top of the Pass first, followed by Danielson and Zabriskie. And as things started to settle down after the KOM, Michael Friedman (USA) of Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies joined the break.
At the next Waste Management sprint in Buena Vista, Zabriskie crossed the line first, followed by Louder and Danielson. Shortly after, riders started to fall off the break and get absorbed back into the peloton. First it was Aru and Friedman. Then, after doing a good part of the work all day, Zabriskie, followed quickly by Louder.
With only two riders left into the break heading toward the final KOM of the day – Cat. 1 Independence Pass (12,095 ft.) – tensions started to grow, but Danielson attacked in advance of the KOM setting him up to take max points and secure the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey for another day. He was followed by Colorado and Freddy Orlando Piamonte Rodriguez (COL) of EPM-UNE as a wall of enthusiastic fans cheered them on at the top of the climb.
“That was awesome! Since I’m a Colorado guy, there’s a lot of responsibility there,” said Danielson. “I’ve dreamed about going over Independence Pass and for it to come true the way it did is something I’ll never forget.”
With Danielson now on a solo mission headed straight for the finish in Aspen, the peloton took chase and narrowed the gap significantly to only a matter of seconds, but it wasn’t enough to catch the Colorado resident, and Danielson took the stage win.
“Today was as good as it gets when it comes to elite professional bike racing,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the Pro Challenge. “The riders kept us on the edge of our seats and the massive crowds along the route and at the top of the passes really set the stage for the race.”
For the jerseys, Vande Velde took the Exergy Leader Jersey. Caruso claimed the Waste Management Sprint Jersey. Danielson held onto the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey. Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski (USA) of Bontrager Livestrong Team kept the Aquadraat Best Young Rider Jersey. Colorado Hernandez was awarded the Evolve Most Aggressive Rider Jersey for his effort on the climbs.
Stage 4 Preview:
Thursday, Aug. 23 – Aspen to Beaver Creek (156.5 km/97.2 mi)
Start Time: 11:35 a.m. MT
Estimated Finish Time: 3:25-4:35 p.m. MT
Satellite Feed Time: 5 – 5:15 p.m. MT
Elevation is the main story for Stage 4 because with much of the course above 9,000 ft., it will be anything but easy. Those who conquered Independence Pass on Stage 3 will see it again very early in Stage 4, with the climb starting almost immediately after several neutral start laps in downtown Aspen. Unlike the previous day, the climb may not decide the winner, but will be an ideal launching point for a breakaway or possibly an overall contender to lose time.
Anyone who is brave enough to attack over Independence Pass will be faced with more than 75 miles of racing at altitude. Along the way they will compete for a sprint in the historic town of Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,152 ft. Next on the agenda will be the climb over the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass (10,424 ft.) before descending into Minturn and tackling the rolling run toward the final climb to Beaver Creek. Passing through the 2011 start city of Avon, the peloton will be faced by a stiff 2.5-mile climb that rises almost 1,000 ft. to the ski resort of Beaver Creek. Although not the fiercest climb on the route, the finale is sure to produce exciting racing, especially among those fighting for the overall lead.
Photo © Slipstream Sports