USA Pro Challenge: Riders reflect on the effects of altitude after Stage 1 in Aspen
It was a quiet, cool Monday morning in Aspen. At 9 a.m. the streets were clear, a few curious onlookers watched race and retail staff tooling around and setting up near the starting line of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge. Tour de France winner Chris Froome and his Sky Procycling team pedaled through town without fanfare. By noon the scene had changed. Streets had filled with fans gathering around team RVs hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite riders. As the 1:05 p.m. start time drew near, crowds packed Main Street and riders approached the line. The excitement grew into a frenzy as the 2013 USA Pro Challenge got underway.
After three laps and 68.2 miles, Froome’s Tour de France win and No. 1 world ranking took a back seat to No. 2 ranked Slovakian rider Peter Sagan. Stage 1 came down to a sprint finish as the green jersey of Cannondale rider Sagan charged past the leaders in the final stretch. He crossed the line in 2 hours 26 minutes.
After crossing the line, the fan favorite popped a wheelie for the cheering Aspen crowd.
“Maybe I was favorite, but for me I am very surprised,” a humble Sagan said after the race.
The story Tuesday was how the riders would handle their first day at elevation.
Sagan’s early arrival to the Rockies may have been the difference.
“I come here two weeks ago. I think it helped me so much because I won here today,” he said with his light Slovakian accent and a smile.
Froome and his Sky team arrived the Wednesday prior to the race. At Sunday’s pre-race press conference, he and teammate Richie Porte gave some indication they may be racing in more of a support role for some of their Sky teammates. It will be worth watching how they handle the race going forward.
“There hasn’t been a lot of time on the bike,” Porte said of his efforts after the Tour.
“In my current shape, I’m not looking forward to the climbs so much,” he joked.
Speaking on the altitude, Froome said, “You feel better as the days go on, but it adds a whole new dimension to the race. I’ve never done a race at this kind of altitude before.”
A strong climbing effort earned American Matt Cook the red Nissan King of the Mountain (KOM) jersey for Stage 1. The 23-year-old Sagan also earned the Green Clif Bar Sprint Leader and the Best Young Rider jerseys for the stage.
Belgian Greg Van Avermaet and American Kiel Reijnen finished second and third overall.
It was a tight finish in the end with hardly a gap between the breakaway group and the peloton. The breakaway group never got much more than a minute and a half gap between it and the rest of the peloton.
BMC Racing Team’s star rider, American Tejay van Garderen, finished fifth on the day. Boulder residents Rory Sutherland (Aus.) and Tom Danielson (Amer.) finished seventh and ninth on the day.
Last year’s winner Christian Vande Velde finished 24th, five seconds behind the leaders. Froome and Porte dropped to the back of the peloton. Froome finished the stage 77th at +4:59. Port 103rd at +6:41.
Stage 2 kicks off today in Aspen with a 10:10 a.m. start. The stage finishes in downtown Breckenridge with an expected finish time at around 3:45.
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