BRECKENRIDGE — BMC rider Mathias Frank of Switzerland crossed the finish line first to take Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge on Tuesday.
It was a tight finish to the stage. As riders descended from Hoosier Pass, there was little distance between the breakaway pack and the peloton.
“Oh man, it was a really tough stage, especially at this altitude,” Frank told NBC Sports after the race.
But celebrating the stage win by slowing down and pumping his fists prior to crossing the finish may have cost him the general classification (G.C.) lead for the race.
Garmin Sharp team rider Lachlan Morton took the G.C. lead and the yellow jersey from Stage 1 winner Peter Sagan. Sagan went from first to third in the G.C. He also finished the stage in third place.
While riders entered Stage 2 a little more acclimatized, altitude was clearly still a factor.
“The altitude changed the game totally,” Frank said in the post-race news conference. “To win here, the most important thing is to be acclimated.”
Morton, who visited Breckenridge a number of times as a child and whose Garmin team is based out of Boulder, also acknowledged the challenges of racing at over 9,000 feet.
“If you walk up the stairs here, it’s hard work. It’s really different racing here.”
Riders were challenged almost immediately after leaving the start in Aspen with the more than 3,500-foot climb up the steep side of 12,000-foot Independence Pass.
There was a break with 21 riders early and Swiss BMC rider Michael Schaer took a 20-second lead before the climb on Independence Pass.
As the group climbed, a three-man breakaway developed with Stage 1 KOM Jersey winner Matt Cooke, Schaer, and Jelly Belly rider Luis Lemus. By the time they reached the top of the pass, the break had a 3 minute, 40 second lead on the peloton. As they came down the pass Colorado threw a light rain at the field of competition.
“We only had a few drops,”Frank said.
The break group managed to extend the lead to over 5 minutes, but the peloton caught them near Buena Vista.
Morton broke away from the peloton as the racers climbed Hoosier Pass on the way to Breckenridge, but Frank was able to take the lead and hold it on the climb up Moonstone Road.
Crashes and illness took several riders out of the race, leaving 121 cyclists from an opening field of 128.
Defending race winner Christian Van de Velde, a teammate of Morton’s, finished 19th and is 20th overall, trailing by 46 seconds.
Reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky) finished 76th and is also 76th overall — more than 16 minutes back. He’s riding in a support role for young American teammate Joe Dombrowski.
The race heads to from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs today for Stage 3.