After a dramatic descent from the summit of Independent Pass, Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) held off a hard charging peloton to take the stage win by a scant two seconds in Aspen. Teammate Christian Vande Velde took over the race lead from Tejay van Garderen (BMC) due to his higher placing on the stage (Vande Velde 9th and van Garderen 12th).
It didn’t take long for a break to go up the road and for the third day in a row Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) was there with 16 other riders.
By the time the break climbed over the category 1 Cottonwood Pass, they were caught and there was a reshuffle. The break was now Danielson, Zabriskie, Fabio Aru (Astana), Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare), Pengda Jiao (Champion System), Mike Friedman (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits) and Francisco Colorado (EPM-UNE).
However, after a series of attacks the break had been reduced to Louder, Danielson, Zabriskie, Aru, and Colorado.
Zabriskie was the driving force of the break obviously ruining his chances for a high G.C position to help Danielson.
“Dave is three for three every day for the breakaway. He threw up on himself the first day because he rode so hard. And today he was out there again and completely buried himself for Tom today,” said Vande Velde. “You can’t say enough about teammates like that. He was doing the lion share.”
Zabriskie did essentially a 70 kilometer time trial between the valley to the climb of Independent Pass. However on the ascent the national time trial champion popped and it was now just Danielson, Colorado, and Louder.
Danielson was also full of praise for his teammate.
“He’s a bad, bad man and I owe my victory to him and the team.”
On the beginning ascent of Independent Pass, Danielson put in a slight dig and that’s all it took to finally drop Louder. Colorado was able to stick with Danielson. With a gap under three minutes the BMC lead peloton kept the pace steady to keep their yellow jersey leader at the top of the G.C.
With DZ gone Danielson did the majority of the pacing. He was in the hunt for KOM points at the top of Independent Pass. The Colombian could sit back and enjoy whatever draft Danielson offered. With Danielson off the front and Christian Vande Velde in second place on the general classification, Garmin-Sharp could sit back and let BMC work. It was a classic bike racing strategy.
The BMC led peloton continued to keep a steady temp, keeping the gap at around three minutes. The tempo resulted in the group being strung out in double file with the occasional rider getting dropped off the back.
The top of Independent Pass has already become an iconic climb in the USA Pro Challenge. Last year the road was over-run by fans who had camped out and had partied throughout the night, Alpe d’Huez style. This year the local authorities banned overnight camping as there was concern that the large amount of people would do damage to the forest. That didn’t stop the hordes of people lining both sides of the road, screaming with excitement.
With just three kilometers to the summit of Independent Pass, Danielson shed Colorado.
The crowds did not disappoint at the summit and rivaled anything seen in major European races. Fans covered the top like ants on a picnic basket. Danielson powered over the top and had 15 downhill miles to the finish in Aspen. Crossing the KOM line first further cemented his hold on the climbers jersey.
“I wanted to give everyone a high-five, but I needed to keep my hands on the bar,” said the stage winner jokingly about the fans that lined the road.
With about one minute, 30 second lead Danielson started his descent into Aspen. Leading the chase was race leader Tejay van Garderen.
Swapping from left to right to get the most out of the road, the Garmin-Sharp rider was a bullet. However, the peloton still had time and the manpower to bring him back. As every kilometer was clicked off it looked like the peloton had timed the capture to perfection.
With less than 10 kilometers to the finish Danielson had less than 40 seconds and that was shrinking fast. BMCwas chasing hard to hold onto van Garderen’s yellow jersey.
As Danielson entered Aspen it was less than 15 seconds between Danielson and the peloton. Hands deep in the hooks of the bars he passed the two kilometer to go sign and it still looked like the peloton was going to catch him.
“The last kilometer I knew I had won. But at 2 kilometers to go I didn’t think I was going to win,” said Danielson. “What honestly was going through my mind was my wife saying, ’Don’t look back’ and I wanted to look back so bad. But I said ‘no’ I wasn’t going to look back.”
As he roared under the one kilometer to go it looked like Danielson was going to take the stage, but not gain enough time to take the leader’s jersey. Not even taking the chance to raise his hands in celebration, Danielson took the stage and two seconds behind was Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) in second and Jakob Fuglsang (RadioShack-Nissan) in third.
However, because van Garderen and Vande Velde had virtually the same time on general classification, who ever finished in front of the other would determine the next wearer of the leader’s jersey. Crossing in ninth place was Vande Velde, which broke the tie and awarded him the yellow jersey away from van Garderen.
Race director Jim Birrell explained the ruling.
“Both Christian and Tejay are the same time and each have 30 points (Points are based on their placings in each of the stages so far. In this case they were both tied with 30 points). Today was based on stage placings and Christian finished in ninth and Tejay in 12th.”
“You can’t say enough that this is a team sport and when it works out it’s a beautiful thing,” said the new race leader.
· First Place – Tom Danielson (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda
· Second Place – Damiano Caruso (ITA) of Liquigas-Cannondale
· Third Place – Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek
· Exergy Leader Jersey – Christian Vande Velde (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda
· Waste Management Sprint Jersey – Damiano Caruso (ITA) of Liquigas-Cannondale
· Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey – Tom Danielson (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda
· Aquadraat Best Young Rider Jersey – Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski (USA) of Bontrager Livestrong Team
· Evolve Most Aggressive Rider Jersey – Francisco Jarley Colorado Hernandez (COL) of EPM-UNE