Having the race live up to its name with “America’s Toughest Stage Race” today was just that. Another tough day. Stage 4 consisted of 127 miles and 7,800 feet of climbing. We had a Cat 4 climb, a Cat 2 climb, and a Xat 4 climb to get over. The finish was a bit of an uphill drag with the last k. The kicker today would be that the Cat 2 climb peaked out at 9,500 feet in elevation so thats always nice trying to breathe at that level. With being such a long day, we had a couple guys that would look for a move and myself and Squire who are trying to save ourselves for the weekend would really only look for something if it was a big group.
The stage started off with a 22 mile climb that went up a canyon to the first Cat 4 KOM. It was only average grade of about 2-3 %, but that turned out to be a bit painful. The race started quick again and we started the drag up the canyon and I was more or less hanging out at the back. After about 20 minutes the racing was still full gas and I started to notice that groups were starting to get off the front which were pretty large. I started to move up and once I got to the front I started following the bigger groups. I got into one move of about 20 guys but it didn’t last long and when it came back my teammate Robin Carpenter countered and a few guys followed with. The four of them started to get a gap and I settled in maybe the top 20 as the race was still a bit hesitant. Two or three more riders attacked up the side and more guys tried to follow stringing out the field again, but finally the front sat up. Finally after about 40 minutes of this uphill slog the break was good. We didn’t do much easy pedaling though as UHC went to the front and started riding tempo. They didn’t let the break get much time as maybe it went to under three minutes. We had Robin get into the move and he was only 8 seconds down on the overall lead, so UHC didn’t let them get too much time.
This was a very long stage, so for most of it was really rather boring. We had some wind kick up in some sections and there was some cross wind action, but I positioned well up front to where it wasn’t much of an issue. We hit the Cat 2 climb about 85 miles into the stage and at that point Team Columbia took over the chasing for who knows what reason. There was another headwind, so it made the climb tough but not too bad. The issue was that we were climbing so high and up at 9,500 feet everything just seems a bit harder. Once we got to the top of the climb the break was just right in front of us and starting to fall apart. At this point, Columbia started to slow down and we hit the descent and gap went back up to 2 minutes. Pretty strange. Once we got down the descent, we had one more Cat 4 to hit but it wasn’t too much of an issue. It was more of an issue with the drag race to the bottom of it, it was almost as if it was a mountain top finish. We hit the climb and nothing happened and went over the top with only 20 km to go to the finish. UHC went back to the front and the next 20 km went by quickly. It was unfortunate because Robin got caught at 3 km to go, but did a manly effort to stay in the front. We hit the drag up to the finish and Dion Smith came from pretty far back to almost take the win but had to settle for second. He’s on fire here, actually so is Robin. The whole team is riding amazing. I am in the front group not losing anytime and staying on the same time with the small front group now.
Strava Data from Stage 4
Jon Hornbeck, rides professionally for the Hincapie Racing Team and is also is the owner of Fast Tours Cycling.