Top 10 Summit sports stories of 2011: No. 1 |

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Top 10 Summit sports stories of 2011: No. 1

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

It’s probably not the most surprising way to end our year-in-review countdown, but whether you follow the local sports news or not, it was tough to miss the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge rolling through town in August.

The race attracted close to a million spectators (tens of thousands in Breck) and some of the world’s best cyclists, riding in a seven-day stage race from Colorado Springs to Denver through some of Colorado’s most grueling mountain terrain. Breck was luck to be center stage, hosting the Saturday finish on the second-to-last day of racing before American Levi Leipheimer’s victory lap in Denver.

Prognosticators were having trouble predicting whether Stage 5 from Steamboat to Breckenridge would lend itself to the sprinters or the climbers. The Summit County crowd learned the answer in dramatic fashion, as 2011 Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck, a climber, was caught by the peloton in the final moments of the race on Park Avenue.

Italian Elia Viviani sprinted downhill through Main Street for his second win in as many days. Jaime Castaneda and Daniel Oss rounded out the podium for the day.

Leipheimer muscled through an attack on Swan Mountain Road by Boulder-based Team Garmin-Cervelo, which was supporting general classification contenders Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson.

“You could never win a race without a team, and you could never win this race without a team as strong as RadioShack,” Leipheimer said after the race. “We were able to keep it together and let a breakaway go that had no one really close on the (general) classification.”

Although the breakaway group was filled with non-threats to the general classification (GC), it was nonetheless comprised of some of the sport’s top names.

Led by Dutch rider Laurens Ten Dam, the breakaway came out of the gate in ballistic fashion during the last substantial stage of the challenge. It was an elite group rounded out by Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck, Tour of Italy winner Ivan Basso, American Thomas Peterson and Javier Acevedo, who posed the only threat to Levi Leipheimer’s yellow jersey in the GC.

Schleck showed everyone he wasn’t simply on leisurely Colorado vacation. With the ascent up Swan Mountain Road on everybody’s mind, the breakaway group of climbers charged through Silverthorne and Dillon with a sizeable lead on the peloton and intentions of showing the American crowd they can get a stage win at nearly 10,000 feet.

“Final climbs suit me pretty good, but I couldn’t get more than 15 seconds (away from the break group). … I guess we gambled too long and suddenly the peloton was there. … I wish the race was 500 meters shorter,” Schleck joked.

But there’s no joke about it. If the race were 500 meters shorter, the climber Schleck would have won, which is a testament to Rabbit Ears Pass, the gradual uphill from Kremling and Swan Mountain Road, which many experts had dismissed as not very challenging.

Garmin-Cervelo did exactly what they needed to do on the Swan Mountain climb, which was get Levi Leipheimer alone without his teammates. But it proved to be too little, too late as the 37-year-old American proved he was the strongest rider in the challenge.

“Of course we knew there would be some attacks especially on Swan Mountain,” Leipheimer said. “When we crested over the (king of the mountain), I looked over my shoulder and there was less than 10 riders. That’s a sign that it was not only a hard climb, but a hard day.”

Fifty seconds or so in front of the main group (no more than 50 meters in front of the three chasers), Andy Schleck was grimacing as he dropped the rest of the field en route to Breckenridge up Highway 9.

Schleck was subsequently caught by the chasers, and along with Basso, Ten Dam and pack underdog Peterson, he charged forward. They never got an opportunity to utilize the large chain rings affixed to their bikes for a downhill finish, as the peloton swept up the leaders on Park Avenue less than 1K from the finish line.

“Today, I was really, really close to winning the stage,” Schleck said. “Even if I go to the sprint with Ivan (Basso) and Laurens (Ten Dam), I think I win. I’m not a sprinter, but I’m not that slow either.”

The sprinters were able to take over, and Viviani charged to the front for his second win of the challenge.

Viviani was supported by his Liguigas-Cannondale team, which included part-time Summit County local Timmy Duggan, who grew up ski racing for Team Summit. Vivani is hoping to parlay his strong performance in Colorado onto the Italian national team.

The Pro Cycling Challenge is set to return to Breck this summer with the Stage 5 start to Colorado Springs.