Underdog Jelly Belly team in USA Pro Challenge podium contention
BMC’s Tejay van Garderen of Aspen all but locked up his second consecutive USA Pro Challenge General Classification (GC) victory Saturday in Vail, and fellow pre-race favorite Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) established a pretty firm grip on second with one stage remaining. But the fight for third in Sunday’s final stage could make for an intense competition.
Just four seconds separate Jelly Belly’s Serghei Tvetcov and Tour de France King of the Mountain winner Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo).
For Jelly Belly, a UCI continental team, it would be an unprecedented win — the cycling equivalent of a minor league baseball team playing in the World Series.
“This is our Super Bowl of cycling,” team manager Danny Van Haute told the Summit Daily before the start of this week’s race.
Tvetcov is the only rider in the top four not to have competed in the Tour de France — at least not yet. Van Garderen and Danielson both have top 10 finishes to their credit.
With such steep competition, Van Haute initially hoped his team would simply be competitive, maybe challenging for a stage win or two. But the idea of finishing on the GC podium was a long shot at best. Now with just a 78-mile sprint stage remaining it is a very real possibility.
“It’s huge for us to be in third,” Van Haute said prior to Friday’s Stage 6. Even a top 10 GC placing would be a boost to the team’s program.
For Tvetcov this week’s result will likely allow him to move up the ranks from continental to the world tour level, regardless of finish.
The Romanian rider spent the week quietly creeping up the GC leader board from eighth initially to third following Stage 5 in Breckenridge. Saturday’s Vail stage earned him his third third-place stage finish.
“I expected to have good days,” Tvetcov said of his performance so far, though he didn’t necessarily expect to be third overall headed into the final day.
“Everyday is really dangerous. I need to stay out of trouble and watch out,” he said of his strategy to hold onto his four-second lead over Majka headed into Sunday’s Boulder-to-Denver stage.
Van Haute elaborated following Saturday’s news conference.
“It’s going to take an effort from the whole team. We’re going to go into it not as a stage race but a one-day race,” he said. “Our eyes have to be open. If Majka goes up the road we need to chase him down.”
With Sunday’s stage passing through Golden, Tvetcov might have a slight edge on his opponent. The Romanian calls Golden home and regularly trains on Lookout Mountain along with other sections of the course. Tvetcov said he was looking forward to having a home crowd behind him on the final day.
Van Haute was optimistic about his rider’s last day in the saddle. “The way Serghei is sprinting, he might be a contender for a stage win.”
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