USA Pro Challenge review: Van Garderen motors to victory

BMC’s Tejay van Garderen recorded his second big American win of the year at the USA Pro Challenge, beating teammate Mathias Frank and Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson to victory at the week-long Colorado stage race. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) took four stage wins and the sprinters’ jersey, Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) the King of the Mountains prize and Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) finished as best young rider.

Race summary

When it comes to bunch sprints in hilly stages, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is streets ahead of anyone else. Surprise, surprise, he didn’t disappoint on the opening stage in Colorado, edging out Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) to the finish in Aspen after a relatively short 97.6km ride. It was short but not easy, with the climbs at Snowmass and McLain Flats both taken in thrice, before the Slovakian emerged from the peloton to take the leader’s jersey.

Stage two was rather less sprinter-friendly, with three tough mountain passes – including Independence Pass at over 12,000ft – taken in over the 202.9km course. The downhill finish into Breckenridge ensured the all-rounders stayed in contention until the end, though it was BMC’s Swiss climber Mathias Frank – who will join the IAM team next season – who timed a perfect attack on the the descent of the Hoosier Pass, eventually dropping his fellow escapees to cross the line alone. Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) took the overall lead two seconds ahead of Frank, while Sagan’s impressive display ensured he held onto a podium spot overall.

The third stage was another one for the sprinters, meaning only one thing – Sagan won again. He took the bunch sprint after the peloton caught a solo Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) within the final five kilometres of the 170km stage into Steamboat Springs. Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) finished second and Ryan Anderson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) third, as young Aussie Lachlan Morton held onto his general classification lead.

Stage four was billed as the race’s queen stage, with the riders taking in the climb of Bachelors Gulch – which reached gradients of up to 18% – before a tough descent and final short climb to the finish. It was on this descent that the decisive moves were made, with Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) finishing together, 13 seconds ahead of third-placed man Mathias Frank. Acevedo rolled across the line to take the win practically unchallenged – perhaps in return for the effort he put in to open up a gap on the descent. After all, van Garderen was more worried about the GC, and moved into the race lead. He was four seconds ahead of Frank and 30 in front of third-placed Acevedo.

The American extended his GC lead on stage five, edging out Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky by just four seconds to win the 16.1km time trial. Having set the best time early on, it was an agonising wait for Talansky, though van Garderen just had enough to beat him. The race leader’s overall advantage grew to 1:30 ahead of Frank, while Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) leapfrogged Acevedo into a podium spot.

The TT win effectively sealed van Garderen’s overall victory with two days to spare, as neither of the remaining stages were tough enough for him to be cracked. Stage six saw a big climb up to Devil’s Gulch, though coming inside the first half of the 185.4km stage before a big descent towards the finish, it was going to be another day for the sprinters Peter Sagan. Sure enough, Sagan’s total domination of the race continued, outsprinting Mezgec and van Avermaet to take victory, while van Garderen finished comfortably in the peloton.

The race’s final stage saw the riders circuit a flat course around Denver, meaning it would come down to a bunch sprint again. Surprise, surprise, Sagan recorded his fourth stage win, this time seeing off Ryan Anderson and Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthcare). van Garderen finished 15th on the stage, ensuring he comfortably claimed the overall victory and second American stage race of the year after May’s Tour of California.

Analysis & opinion

Although Tejay van Garderen bounced back excellently from a disappointing Tour de France to seal the overall win, the real star of the show was Peter Sagan. He showed excellently, even on tough stages, admitting he was “surprised” with his form. Riding this race in preparation for the undulating Canadian WorldTour races and the World Championships in Italy, the dominant Sagan will be a serious contender in all three.

One of the most impressive performers at this race was second-placed finisher, Mathias Frank. He’s currently enjoying the greatest season of his professional career, having won the Tour of Austria and finished in the top five overall at the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse, despite not impressing at the four Grand Tours he’s started. Having agreed a contract with the Pro Continental IAM team for next season, the 26-year-old Swiss is one to watch.

General classification

1. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) 22:38:48

2. Mathias Frank (BMC) +1:30

3. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) +1:42

4. Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) +2:10

5. Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) +2:34

6. Gregory Brenes (Champion System) +3:25

7. Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) +3:42

8. George Bennett (RadioShack-Leopard) +3:58

9. Rory Sutherland (Saxo-Tinkoff) +4:11

10. Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) +4:12

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