Eight days ago BMC team rider Tejay van Garderen told a room full of reporters, “We’re definitely taking this race seriously. We brought a really strong team, and yeah we’d like to win it. That’s the goal.”
And after seven days and 593.1 miles in the saddle, he did just that, finishing first overall in the general classification (GC) after the final stage of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge Sunday in Denver.
World No. 2 ranked Cannondale pro, 23-year-old Slovakian rider Peter Sagan kept his stranglehold on the green sprint-leader jersey with style, adding a fourth stage win with another thrilling finish.
Boulder native Matt Cooke held on to the King of the Mountain (KOM) competition and the red polka-dotted jersey.
Cooke said it took a “little bit of luck and some hard work. You really have to go for it, pin yourself to the wall.”
For Cooke it was especially satisfying since his former team fell apart at the end of last year.
“A couple months ago I was thinking about watching this on TV,” he said. But earlier in the year he was signed by the Jamis-Hagens Berman Team.
For van Garderen, it was a proud moment to finish first in his home state after second and third place finishes in the first two years of the Pro Challenge.
“Man I felt like it was a long time coming because I was so close the other two times,” he said after the race. “With this race on the calendar, it wasn’t a question of if I was going to stay motivated.”
With a 1 minute 30 second lead on his closest GC competition, van Garderen had the win all but wrapped up going into Sunday’s circuit race in Denver
“It feels amazing,” the Colorado native said prior to the start of Stage 7. “I’m hoping to stay out of trouble and have a little fun out there,” he said of the final stage.
Van Garderen took that GC lead in Stage 4 Thursday in Beaver Creek and didn’t look back. On Friday he added a stage win at the Vail Time Trial and built his lead to 1 minute 30 seconds. Teammate Mathias Frank finished second in the GC.
Fellow Boulder resident and Garmin-Sharp rider Tom Danielson took third.
“I wanted to win, but I think I‘ve done a great performance. I was aggressive where I needed to be. The team was fantastic. For me third and being up on the podium in Denver is a win,” he said.
Danielson was coming from a first place GC finish in the GC at the Tour of Utah, after an injury and a disappointing finish in the Tour de France.
It was a tough fight all week between the BMC and Garmin-Sharp teams, with BMC pulling ahead after Vail.
While the final stage may have been more of a formality, Sunday’s seven lap, 72.4-mile Denver circuit course drew crowds early and still made for an exciting finish.
One California couple staked claim to front row spot near the finish line at 6:30 a.m. Sitting right next to them, Joe Massey of Denver thought he came early when he arrived at 9 a.m.
“We’re just big cycling fans,” he told the Daily.
By the start of the race, downtown Denver was packed with race enthusiasts and temperatures climbed into the 90-degree range.
The peloton still put on a strong show for the gathered masses, averaging speeds of around 30 miles per hour on the relatively flat course.
With no breakaway the entire peloton started the final lap together as a tight pack led by Garmin Sharpe’s Christian Vande Velde .
While Vande Velde was unable to hold the lead, it was an appropriate send off for the American who won the race last year and plans to retire at the end of the year.
“It was a little more emotional than I thought it would be. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little choked up,” Vande Velde said after the race.
Riders stayed tight for the entire final lap. In the last mile van Garderen briefly took the lead in an attempt to help a teammate win the stage.
But the move was not successful.
Just as he did in three other stages, Sagan came from behind and surged ahead in the final sprint to the finish, crossing the line first for his fourth stage win.
Also of note on the day, Tour de France winner Chris Froome left the race after the first lap of the final stage.
Prior to the start of Stage 7, he commented on racing at altitude this week.
“It feels like riding with a 10 kilo backpack on your back.”
Before the start of the Pro Challenge, both he and Sky teammate Richie Porte implied that they would be riding in more of a supporting role for other members of the team. American teammate Joe Dombrowski was an early favorite to compete in the GC, but left the race prior to the start of Stage 3, with what was reported as altitude-related complications. He suffered nosebleeds during Stage 1.
On the race as a whole Froome said, “I didn’t have any expectations other than getting through the race. It’s been a great experience coming up here and seeing Colorado and getting a feel of what it’s like racing up here.”
While he hasn’t decided, he said he would like to return for the race next year.