Van Garderen Wins USA Pro Challenge; Howes Wins Final Stage in Denver
The final stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge, which played out in front of a beautiful Colorado backdrop, took the riders from the cycling town of Boulder, over Lookout Mountain and through Golden on the way to the finish in Downtown Denver where American Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing Team took the overall win for the second consecutive year.
American Alex Howes of Team Garmin-Sharp-POC, who has delivered an impressive performance in this year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge, won a fierce sprint against Kiel Reijnen (United HealthCare) across the finish line in front of large crowds of cycling fans.
In an attempt at underlining the importance of his race victory, van Garderen said "This is a race that I think has firm footing in the eyes of the world with it broadcasted in so many different countries. I hope we can establish a tradition and soon this race will be one of the biggest historical races in the world."
After leaving Boulder at the start of the stage, the riders had several hilly and windswept miles before reaching Golden for the first of two passes. Through Golden, the riders tackled the four-mile climb of Lookout Mountain. Another quick pass of Golden and the race moved through the suburbs en route to Downtown Denver. The peloton then faced an abbreviated version of last year’s circuit for four fast laps through downtown, 17th Avenue, and City Park. Over the years, the race has witnessed some incredible sprinting on Broadway in the heart of Denver and this year was no exception.
At 78 miles, the final stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge would take the riders through a 4.7-mile neutral section before the official start of the race. Anticipated to have the highest fan attendance of any stage, the final day of racing featured one Sierra Nevada KOM and two Lexus sprint competitions. Heading out of town at around 30 mph, the riders traveled through streets that were lined with huge crowds of fans. Knowing it was the last chance for a stage win, the competition started early with a lot of activity off the front almost immediately.
Only a few minutes into the race, a group of 12 riders pulled away from the group, including Michael Rogers (AUS) of Tinkoff-Saxo, Jens Voigt (GER) of Trek Factory Racing, Caleb Fairly (USA) of Team Garmin-Sharp, Cameron Wurf (AUS) of Cannondale Pro Cycling, Adam Phelan (AUS) of Drapac Pro Cycling, Jonathan Clarke (AUS) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, Javier Megias (ESP) of Team Novo Nordisk, Hugh Carthy (GBR) of Rapha Condor JLT, Jesse Anthony (USA) of Optum Presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies, Jonathan Freter (USA) of Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis, Tiago Machado (POR) of Team NetApp-Endura and Ruben Zepuntke (GER) of Bissell Development Team. Wurf wouldn’t hang on for long though and would fall back to the group.
At about 16 miles into the race, the gap increased to two and a half minutes and went back down a bit, continuing to fluctuate as Cannondale Pro Cycling and BMC Racing Team set the pace on the front of the field. With light winds as the riders made their way through Golden, they approached the only KOM of the day at Lookout Mountain.
With the breakaway only 3K to the top of the climb, the gap came down to one minute and forty seconds, with only five riders left, including Machado, Megias, Zepuntke, Voigt and Rogers.
Voigt showed his strength, setting the pace on the climb, and hit the top first, followed by Rogers and Zepuntke. After the climb, the race turned back to Golden as the riders approaches the first Lexus Sprint Line of the day.
Back in the main field, Team Garmin-Sharp was picking up the pace to try and shake the Cannondale Pro Cycling team, as their sprinter Elia Viviani (ITA) would pose a threat to Howes in the final moments of the race. The increasing pace closed the gap to only one minute at 40 miles into the race.
At the sprint line in Golden, Voigt crossed first taking max points, followed by Megias and Rogers. With the riders now separated into three groups, they approached Denver and the finishing circuits. Soon the leaders would see the second and final intermediate sprint line, which was located at the finish line, and would signal four laps to go. With the gaps closing quickly, the sprint produced similar results to the previous one with Voigt crossing the line first, followed by Rogers and Megias.
With three laps to go, and the finish of the 2014 race not far away, attacks started to come from the break. In the final race of his professional career, Voigt launched an attack and took Megias with him. They gained a slight advantage on their previous breakaway companions, who would sit up and fall back to the field. With two laps to go, the two riders had a 30 second advantage on the field.
They wouldn’t be able to hold on until the end though and were reabsorbed with 10K to go. But as Voigt fell back, his teammate Riccardo Zoidl (AUT) launched an attack and would be joined by Paweł Poljański (POL) of Tinkoff-Saxo. With 1K to go though, they too would be absorbed back into the field.
In a fast and furious sprint to the finish, Howes crossed the line just inches ahead of Kiel Reijnen (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team to take the final stage win of the race.
“We went past my house literally four times today on the opening circuits. I saw my entire family out there today,” said Howes. “The plan was to go over Lookout and drive it to the finish and I didn’t know if it was going to work. We got to talking on the team bus this morning and we all agreed we’d try. With my team riding up there today in my home state with all their hearts, I just couldn’t lose.”
These results wouldn’t change the overall general classification, putting van Garderen in first for the second consecutive year; Tom Danielson (USA) of Team Garmin-Sharp, who finished third last year, in second; and Serghei Tvetcov (ROM) of Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis in third.
“This week was just incredible,” added van Garderen. “Here, this is just our home and it feels more like a training camp. It’s just fun. It feels like we’re racing with all our friends. It was fun to share that with my European teammates. This must be what it feels like for them when they race in their homeland.”
In the final awarding of the jerseys, van Garderen kept the Smashburger Leader Jersey and Colorado National Guard Best Colorado Rider Jersey. Reijnen took home the Lexus Sprint Jersey. Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) of Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home kept his lead in the KOM competition and held onto the Sierra Nevada King of the Mountains Jersey. And Clément Chevrier (FRA) of Bissell Development Team retained the Colorado State University Best Young Rider Jersey. Voigt was awarded the FirstBank Most Aggressive Rider Jersey for his impressive riding throughout the week.