Tejay van Garderen defended his title yesterday to win his second consecutive USA Pro Cycling Challenge. One of the young superstars in professional cycling, van Garderen was 5th in the Tour de France in both 2012 and 2014, and won the Amgen Tour of California. He rides for the BMC race team and currently lives in Aspen, Co. U.S. rider Tom Danielson, team Garmin Sharp, took second place, 1:32 behind van Garderen, who also captured two stage wins on the way to victory. Serghei Tvetcov finished third, 1:45 back.
The Pro Challenge is a 7-day stage race that takes place in the Colorado Rockies and takes riders to higher elevations than any other professional stage race in the world. The race began in 2011 and has drawn top riders and huge crowds of spectators each year. The course varies each year, but always includes mountains, sprints, time trials and King of the Mountain honors.
Stage 1, Aspen Circuit Race, 61 miles: The first stage was won by Kiel Reijnen. The 61-mile course consisted of three laps of about 22 miles each, with about 2,300 feet of climbing per lap as each circuit took the riders up to Snowmass Village. Starting elevation of the stage was 7,900 feet. Van Garderen said it was “pretty cool starting in my hometown.” His house is on the circuit, and on a morning training ride before the stage began he and his team stopped for lunch with his family.
Stage 2, Aspen to Crested Butte, 105 miles: Stage 2 was won by Robin Carpenter. The route to Crested Butte took the riders over 8,700 ft. McClure Pass, with 20 miles of rollers in Gunnison County on a surface alternating pavement and dirt, then over Kebler Pass at 9,900 feet. The stage ended with a sprint through the downtown area of Crested Butte and finished with a steep climb up Mt. Crested Butte. Rain turned the dirt road into slick mud, which may have cut down on the willingness of the peloton to take risks to chase breakaway leader Carpenter. Race officials neutralized the race going over Kebler Pass because of slick conditions, holding the pack neutral until pavement was reached again, where the race restarted. Carpenter was given a head start of 45 seconds on the restart. Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes was in the Yellow Jersey. Howes said there was confusion with the neutralization. He went through the nasty part of the downhill in the mud and thought all the “bad stuff” was behind them. In his opinion the neutralization should have happened at the top of the climb, not halfway down.
Stage 3, Gunnison to Monarch Mountain, 96 miles: Eventual winner van Garderen won the third stage, taking a lead in the Pro Cycling Challenge of 20 seconds over Rafal Majka. The stage started in Gunnison and crossed 11,300-foot Monarch Pass. The route made two nine-mile loops through Salida and the surrounding area, then had 20 miles climbing to finish at 10,800 foot Monarch Mountain ski area. Ben Hermans of BMC took the first King of the Mountain (KOM) on Monarch Pass. Monarch Mountain is a category 2 climb with an average grade of 3 percent, with 9 percent at the steepest part. Riders gained 3,635 feet elevation in those 20 miles.
Stage 4, Colorado Springs Circuit, 70 miles: Won by Elia Viviani. The stage was four laps of 16 miles each, climbing through Garden of the Gods, Mesa Road and Ridge Road with grades of nearly 17 percent. The KOM jersey moved to Ben Jacques-Maynes. Van Garderen remained in yellow, 20 seconds ahead of Rafal Majka. Three KOMs in the stage were all won by Jacques-Maynes,
Stage 5, Woodland Park to Breckenridge, 104 miles: Stage 5 was won by Laurent Didier. The route had smooth sailing for the riders the first 80 miles, through the picturesque terrain of Pike National Forest. Once they reached Fairplay they started the long grind up Hoosier Pass, 11,500 feet, which was the highest point in the race. The finish in Breckenridge was a challenging run up Moonstone Road. It rained off and on all day, and temperatures on the course were about 50 degrees.
Stage 6, Vail Time Trial, 10 miles: Van Garderen smashed the course record with a time of 24:26 to win the stage and increase his overall lead to 1:32, breaking his course record of 25:02 set last year. The route included gentle climbing for the first half, then a steady steep grade for last three miles to the top of Vail Pass. Weather was rainy and roads were slick. Tom Danielson took second in the time trial. Van Garderen averaged 24.6 mph over 10 miles uphill.
Stage 7, Boulder to Denver, 78 miles: The final stage was won by Alex Howes, Some of the largest crowds in the race gathered in Golden, Boulder and Denver. Riders traveled from Boulder over the big rollers on Highway 93, then took the 4-mile climb up Lookout Mountain in Golden. The race then went on to Denver and a 3.5 lap circuit downtown before finishing at City Park. Van Garderen in yellow jersey remained 1:32 in front.
A crash eight miles in took Ian Crane out of the race and to the hospital. Despite being out of contention, the day belonged to Jens Voight, who in the last stage of his last race took the first sprint, set the pace on the climb and took the KOM for the day. Voight was in front coming into downtown but was reabsorbed by the pack with less than 10 kilometers to go. The pack was big coming in, with Howes topping a wild sprint to the finish.
Overall jersey results: King of the Mountain (KOM) winner was Jacques-Maynes, the sprint jersey went to Reijnen, Best Young Rider was Clement Chevrier, Team Competition winner was BMC Racing Team and Best Colorado Rider went to van Garderen.
Voight told Velo News that he chose to close his career in Colorado because “I think I have a pretty good fan base in the U.S. and it just felt right to end my career here. Hopefully I have the freedom to go on one of my ‘stupid’ breakaways. The air just feels a little fresher and clearer here. It’s a beautiful state….Being here gives you a little peace of mind. It’s good for your soul. It makes you happy.” As he was caught by the pack and passed in the last 10 kilometers of the final stage many riders patted him on the back as they went by. His storied career is now over. The Pro Cycling Challenge will be back next year.
Commentary By Beth A. Balen