USA Pro Challenge: International dark horses battle for points in Stage 6 |

USA Pro Challenge: International dark horses battle for points in Stage 6

Roman Kreuziger celebrates winning stage 6 of the USA Pro Challenge Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015.
Erin Hull | Erin Hull

On the penultimate day of racing, the international unknowns finally took hold of the USA Pro Challenge on Aug. 22, at least for a single stage.

Roman Kreuziger of Tinkoff-Saxo, a perpetual top-25 finisher who often joined early break groups in the mountain stages, managed to hang onto his lead at the first Front Range course to take the Stage 6 win. With it, the 29-year-old Czech rider brought the World Tour team its first win and first top-five finish of the 2015 race. The team’s middling results were a surprise for many who expected Peter Sagan’s home team to place higher, but the win was a crucial — and welcome — late move heading into the final day.

Behind Kreuziger was veteran Javier Megias Leal of Spain, the first Novo Nordisk racer to place in the top-10 this year, followed by Italian 21-year-old Leonardo Basso of Trek Factory Racing in third position.

BMC Racing powerhouse Rohan Dennis holds onto the men’s yellow jersey for Stage 7 from Golden to Denver, with teammate Brent Bookwalter in second and Rob Britton of Team SmartStop in third.

Kreuziger’s win was enough to bump Tinkoff-Saxo from sixth to fourth in the overall standings, but it’s more of a morale victory than anything with teeth. The Russian-based crew now sits five minutes behind the closest competition, Hincapie Racing, which has battled for second position with Jelly Belly-Maxxis since Stage 2. Like its top riders — and barring a catastrophic meltdown — BMC Racing will hold onto the overall win in Denver.

Leal’s performance is a major win for Novo Nordisk, the world’s only professional race team solely for people with Type I diabetes. Spain’s Leal, a 31-year-old with nearly a decade of pro experience, struggled to earn points in the early stages. He and his team hadn’t even cracked the top-50 until Stage 6. Like Tinkoff-Saxo, this was a morale booster: A sole second-place finish isn’t enough to bump them past tenth-place Caja Rural-Seguros in the overall team standings, but it proves the team can compete when it matters.

“My biggest goal is definitely winning a stage,” Leal told the Summit Daily before the race. “That would be fantastic and mean so much to our team and to our fans.”

The Dennis show

In the general classification running, the top of the podium was more-or-less decided on Aug. 21 in Breckenridge, after Rohan Dennis (the Tour de France time trial record-holder) beat his closest competitor, Rob Britton of Team SmartStop, by a whopping 27 seconds. That performance stunned the otherwise tight TT field to place a punctuation mark on his solo Stage 4 win, when he took the yellow jersey from teammate and Stage 2 winner Brent Bookwalter. He hasn’t lost it since, and entered the 102-mile Stage 6 ride from Loveland to Fort Collins a commanding 44 seconds ahead of Bookwalter, his only competition in the overall standings.

When Dennis made a statement in the High Country, it paid off, even though he seemed to be a set-up man for Bookwalter in the early stages. There were even questions about his preparation heading into the race, but he quickly put those to rest with humble yet dominating performances, beginning with deft drafting skills to set up Bookwalter for the mountain-top win at Arapahoe Basin on Aug. 18.

“To be honest, I wasn’t planning on riding GC here,” Dennis said. “It’s just that I’ve stepped it up a couple of levels over the past couple years, and the altitude doesn’t affect me as much.”

Year of Twenty16

In the women’s race, 26-year-old Tayler Wiles of DNA made a statement by taking the win over a top-10 teeming with veteran riders. Behind her was the one-two punch of Lauren Komanski and Kristin Armstong, both of the Twenty16 team.

Yet, as often happens in the wild world of bike racing, even a strong stage performance wasn’t enough for Wiles to rend the yellow jersey away from Armstrong. Twenty16’s two-time Olympic Gold medalist added a healthy 31 seconds to her 0.12-second lead from the time trial with a stellar performance on the 58-mile course, which took the peloton from Loveland to Fort Collins through the foothills of Roosevelt National Forest. She holds onto the yellow jersey for the Stage 3 finale in Golden tomorrow, followed by Wiles in second and Boulder resident Mara Abbott in third.

With one day remaining in the inaugural women’s Pro Challenge, Twenty16 is the team to beat. Along with Armstrong and Komanski, the strong crew placed two additional racers in the top-10 for Stage 2, including TT runner-up Allie Dragoo. It’s a testament to veteran leadership from Armstrong and young, unproven riders like Dragoo — a theme of the 2015 Pro Challenge at large.

“The course was great, the spectators were great, and I just love the challenge that was presented today,” Armstrong said after beating Dragoo in the time trial by a fraction of a second. “I don’t see Allie as losing today — I see her as an amazing talent coming up in the peloton. I wouldn’t feel like my work was done unless I could encourage and mentor and inspire people like Allie.”

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