After being in the breakaway for most of stage 6 of the USA Pro Challenge, Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) broke clear on the Flagstaff climb to take a long deserved stage victory.
Sutherland admitted that the USA Pro Challenge hadn’t been the most successful for his team and he’d had a sleepless night before today’s stage. Apparently that didn’t effect his ability to ride. With 30,000 people lining the narrow, windy road, Boulder resident Sutherland was motivated. He crossed the line with the biggest smile.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this,” said Sutherland.
Crossing the line in forth place and more importantly 21 seconds faster than race leader Tejay van Garderen, was Levi Leipheimer snatching the yellow leader’s jersey.
“No one could have planned this week,” said Leipheimer.
After a week of laying low the California resident attacked when it mattered most.
Leipheimer explained the last kilometers of the stage.
“Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong) attacked and Tejay didn’t follow. If Tejay isn’t following it means he was hurting.” Continuing he described stage 6 as, “The most beautiful day of cycling.” That’s something this sport needs badly right now.
Another jersey snatched away was Tom Danielson’s KOM by Jens Voigt. The RadioShack-Nissan rider finished the stage in third place and as a result of his consistent placings in this category he grabbed enough points to win the red climbers jersey.
Voigt, not known as a climber, couldn’t remember how many KOM jerseys he his won in his long career. “Four or five? It’s nice when it happens.”
Another stage, another early breakaway
This was the day for the racers who had plans on the overall. Stage 6, Golden to Boulder, was 102.8 miles and featured two category 2 and one category 1 climb this being the famous Flagstaff mountain. Although just around six kilometers in length and topping out at 6,868 feet the Flagstaff climb is steep and proved to be decisive.
As usual the attacks started very early in the stage, this time it was 14 riders: Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp), George Bennett (RadioShack-Nissan), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), Paolo Longo Borghini (Liquigas-Cannondale), Timothy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Fabio Aru (Astana), Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), Christopher Jones (UnitedHealthcare), Rubens Bertogliati (Team Type1), Biao Liu (Champion System), Christopher Baldwin (Bissell), Serghei Tvetcov (Exergy), Francisco Colorado (EPM-UNE), and Robigzon Oyola (EPM-UNE). Working together in a smooth double pace line their advantage was five minutes and 25 seconds.
“We are going to try and set up the fireworks. I think we are going to try and win a stage today,” said Voigt to Cycling Illustrated before the stage and it looked like he was serious.
Suffering between the main peloton and the breakaway were two riders: Carter Jones (Bissell) and Joey Rosskopf (Team Type 1). This duo only had a two minute lead on the main peloton as they started the first real climb of the day – the 15 mile drag of Boulder Canyon.
Over the top of the Nederland KOM, Howes snagged maximum points in order to protect his teammate Tom Danielson’s lead in that category’s jersey.
The task of pacing the main field was squarely on the shoulders of BMC. The red and black kits were at the front on Boulder Canyon. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) was tucked behind BMC as was the dark horse favorite of today’s stage Levi Leipheimer. The Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider had been holding steady in fourth place on the g.c just eight seconds back.
Cycling Illustrated asked Leipheimer if he thought the climb of Flagstaff would be the pivotal moment in the race.
“We have tomorrow as well (the Denver time trial). I would guess that tomorrow would be bigger time gaps. Time trials are always like that. The course today is important. We can’t hand it to Tejay even if it’s the same time gap as tomorrow. Anything can happen.”
“I’ve won the Amgen Tour of California three times in the time trial and Christian is a great time trialist, so it’s not over.”
However the last stage’s time trial is only 9.5 miles long. Was that enough to make up eight seconds and take the lead if he couldn’t do it on Flagstaff?
“It’s a little short, I’d like it to be longer, but we can still make some differences in 15k.”
As the break gained time Colorado, who started the day 42 seconds back, had moved into the virtual lead. This was a concern to the other riders in the break as they knew BMC would not be happy with that situation and would pull them back. If Colorado continued to be a part of the break it was doomed.
With 25 kilometers to go Voigt attacked out of the break, launching his teammate and fellow escapee George Bennett solo. The result of the acceleration tore the breakaway asunder and it was thinned to seven: George Bennett, Jens Voigt, Timothy Duggan, Fabio Aru, Rory Sutherland, Christopher Baldwin, Serghei Tvetcov, Francisco Colorado and Robigzon Oyola with a gap of two minutes, 20 seconds. Bridging up was Julien El Fares (Team Type 1).
Through the sprint line in the city of Boulder the gap was down to two minutes and the climb of Flagstaff was literally around the corner.
At the bottom of Flagstaff Voigt attacked. The main peloton was still two minutes back by the time they screamed through the sprint line in Boulder and was closing fast.
The sides of Flagstaff were clogged with fans, but even the the signs of “Shut Up Legs” wasn’t enough to keep the very popular German off the front. Sutherland bridged across to Voigt and kept on rolling. Behind Voigt, Aru separated himself from that select group of seven.
In response to Aru, Colombian Castiblanco attacked, but it was short lived as Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong) brought him back. Dombrowski is the winner of the Baby Giro and has the credentials to be a future winner of the USA Pro Challenge. He just signed to a Pro Tour team which he will officially announce in the near future. Ahead Sutherland continued to part the huge and sometimes barely clothed Flagstaff crowds.
With three kilometers to the finish line, Nibali was the next to try and bridge to the flying Austrian. However the Italian didn’t have the speed to break the elastic. Leipheimer was the next to go and passed the Liquigas-Cannondale rider, going clear. With pain etched on his face Leiphimer said that he crossed the finish line completely empty and it showed.
At just eight seconds behind van Garderen, Leipheimer was a threat to take the leader’s jersey and continually looked behind him to check the status of his move.
Sutherland went under the one kilometer to go banner with enough of a lead to hold off Aru and Voigt. At 500 meters to go victory was assured and he zipped up his blue UnitedHealthcare jersey in preparation for a salute.
Aru was second at 20 seconds back and Voigt another six. Next was Leipheimer and when he passed underneath the finish line banner the clock started to tick down the gap between him and van Garderen. It was 29 seconds later that van Garderen crossed the line, losing the yellow jersey by nine seconds.
“I tried pulling him back immediately. I didn’t want to let him go,” said van Garderen. “The guys who were with me were pretty much leaving it up to me to chase. Then a couple people started attacking, so I just started sitting on. I wasn’t getting a lot of help out there. In the last kilometer, it was just survival.”
Early this season Levi has notched some strong time trial results and tomorrow’s race against the clock in Denver is just nine and a half miles. But Leipheimer wasn’t ready to say he had the race wrapped up.
“Tejay is probably the best grand tour rider in the U.S,” he said. “It’s still daunting but I’m extremely motivated.”
· First Place – Rory Sutherland (AUS) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team
· Second Place – Fabio Aru (ITA) of Astana Pro Team
· Third Place – Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek
· Exergy Leader Jersey – Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep
· Waste Management Sprint Jersey – Tyler Farrar (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda
· Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey – Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek
· Aquadraat Best Young Rider Jersey – Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski (USA) of Bontrager Livestrong Team
· Evolve Most Aggressive Rider Jersey – Rory Sutherland (AUS) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team