Carpenter Wins Stage 2 of USA Pro Challenge; Howes Takes Overall Lead
Despite gloomy race conditions, Alex Howes (USA) of Team Garmin-Sharp-POC finished the stage in second place, putting him at the top of the general classification rankings. “This is my home race, so it’s not hard to be motivated for it,” Howes explained while proudly wearing the yellow race leader jersey after being celebrated on the podium.
BMC Racing Team's Ben Hermans moved into second overall and teammate and defending USA Pro Challenge Champion Tejay van Garderen stands third following the rain-soaked, uphill finish that was preceded by a brief stoppage of the stage.
Today's stage 2 of the 2014 USA Pro Cycling Challenge opened fast by ripping down the Aspen Valley through the sprint cities of Basalt and Carbondale before tackling the 8,700 ft. McClure Pass. A short descent brought the race to Gunnison County Road 12, which is a 20-mile rollercoaster that constantly changes from pavement to dirt and back again, while topping out at 9,900 ft. over Kebler Pass. The race then came to an end with a sprint through downtown Crested Butte and the steep finish climb up to Mt. Crested Butte.
As the riders set off on a three-mile neutral section out of Aspen, they knew what was lying ahead – a long challenging stage with three sprint and KOM competitions. As the riders left Aspen and descended into the town of Basalt traveling at speeds of 45 mph, Matej Mohoric (CAN) of Cannondale Pro Cycling broke away from the group, but was reeled back in just before the sprint. Seventeen miles into the stage they hit the first Lexus Sprint Line where Tyler Magner (USA) of Hincapie Sportswear Development Team took max points, followed by the man in the yellow jersey Kiel Reijnen (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team and Mohoric.
With the next sprint not far down the road in Carbondale, the pace stayed high and Magner crossed the line first, followed by Reijnen and Jure Kocjan (SLO) of Team SmartStop. Next, the riders would cross into the feed zone to prepare for the Sierra Nevada KOMs of the day. Leading into the first KOM competition at McClure Summit, a Cat. 1, 3.5-mile climb with an average grade of seven percent, things started to heat up with attacks coming off the front. Eventually a group of 10 would get away for good that included Michael Torckler (NZL) of Team SmartStop; Ryan Anderson (CAN) and Jesse Anthony (USA) of Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies; Jai Crawford (AUS) of Drapac Pro Cycling; Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) of Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home; Chris Jones (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team; Luis Davila (MEX) and Kirk Carlsen (USA) of Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis; and Joe Lewis (AUS) and Dion Smith (NZL) of Hincapie Sportswear Development Team. Soon after, they were joined by David de la Cruz Melgarejo (ESP) of Team NetApp-Endura and Mohoric.
With the summit of McClure Pass in his sights de la Cruz attacked and hit the top first, followed closely by Jacques-Maynes and Torckler. The next challenge facing the riders would be a 20-mile dirt road section, which would continue as they went up over Kebler Pass (Cat. 2). Heading into that section the field was split into two separate chase groups.
With inclement weather and the challenging course facing the riders, the gap started to come down as they approached Kebler Pass. An attack was launched, but most of the riders were able to follow, leaving only Crawford, Jones and Carlsen chasing behind. Soon after though, de la Cruz, Lewis and Smith also were dropped. Carpenter seized his opportunity and attacked the break on the climb to reach the summit first. Once the chase group reached the top, Matt Cooke (USA) of Jamis-Hagens Berman crossed the line next, followed by Michael Schär (SUI) of BMC Racing Team.
As weather worsened on Kebler Pass, with hail and lightning strikes being reported within 100 feet of the route, the decision was made by race officials to temporarily neutralize the race for the safety of the riders. At 9k to go, the race was stopped and restarted, reinstating the 45-second gap Carpenter had on the chase. The decision was made by race commissaires, whose main priority is the riders’ safety, based on the situation and the available information at the time.
"We had a plan to make it hard up Kebler Pass and the boys did an amazing job," BMC Racing Team's van Garderen said. "I think everyone was on the limit, lots of guys were dropped. There was big confusion with us stopping on the wet, freezing-cold, rainy downhill after we had done all the dirt. But once we re-started, we still got into our mindset that we were out to make something happen on this stage and I think it was mission accomplished."
According to van Garderen, there was briefly talk among riders of keeping the race neutral the rest of the way. "But for me, it did not make sense because there was a guy in the breakaway and if we stop, he is going to take ten minutes and run away with the race," the defending champion explained. "Second, we were riding all day and that would not have been fair to the guys who had spent so much energy to just say this energy was spent for nothing."
With the race back underway, Carpenter worked hard to maintain his gap over the field and took max points at the Lexus Sprint Line in Crested Butte. Crossing the line second would be yesterday’s most aggressive rider Danny Summerhill (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team and then Schär.
With one kilometer to go and the steep climb up to the finish in Mt. Crested Butte ahead of him, Carpenter gave it his all up the final KOM of the day. With yesterday’s second place finisher Howes and defending Pro Challenge champion Tejay van Garderen (USA) of BMC Racing Team coming up quickly behind him, Carpenter was able to hold on to take the stage win. Wet, but enthusiastic fans lined the road to see his victory and to cheer Howes and van Garderen in to second and third place, respectively.
“I attacked my breakaway companions about 10K away from the climb,” said Carpenter. “I couldn’t see anyone. The last time check I saw was 30 seconds to the peloton. I had it in my head that if I could get over the top of Kebler Pass with enough time, I could end up getting to Crested Butte with 30-40 seconds. This win is huge for us and for me personally it’s massive – the best ride I’ve had in my short career so far.”
For the jerseys, Howes takes the Smashburger Leader Jersey. While Reijnen holds onto the Lexus Sprint Jersey and Jacques-Maynes keeps the Sierra Nevada King of the Mountains Jersey. The Colorado State University Best Young Rider Jersey also remains unchanged with Clement Chevrier (FRA) of Bissell Development Team. Today’s FirstBank Most Aggressive Rider Jersey was awarded to Carpenter for his impressive ride. And the Colorado National Guard Best Colorado Rider Jersey went to Howes.
Wednesday's stage 3 of the 2014 USA Pro Cycling Challenge will send the riders on a 166 kilometer (103.2 mi) trip from Gunnison to Monarch Mountain.