USA Pro Challenge: Taylor Phinney pulls ahead in final seconds for Stage 1 win
The leaderboard — Stage 1
1. Taylor Phinney (BMC)
2. Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare)
3. Brent Bookwalter (BMC)
4. Ryan Anderson (Optum)
5. Gavin Mannion (Jelly Belly-Maxxis)
1. BMC Racing Team
2. Jelly Belly-Maxxis
3. Trek Factory Racing
Jonny Clark (United Healthcare)
Taylor Phinney (BMC)
Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare) wears jersey in Stage 2
Best young rider
Logan Owen (Axeon Cycling)
Best Colorado rider
Taylor Phinney (BMC)
After a last-second push, Colorado native Taylor Phinney (BMC) overtook the field in a wild sprint finish to win the first yellow jersey of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge.
Phinney, the 25-year-old son of cycling legend Davis Phinney, took advantage of a haphazard peloton in the final half-mile to pull ahead of breakaway leaders Guillame Boivin (Optum Cycling) and Rohan Dennis (BMC). Boivin and Dennis were jockeying for position in the last eight miles, bumping tread while pulling ahead of the chase group by nearly 15 seconds as the course wound over wide, rolling fields to the finish in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Overall-favorite Dennis didn’t enter the mix until the final push, when early leaders Jonny Clark (UnitedHealthcare) and Michael Torckler (Team Budget Forklifts) started to fall behind in the second lap. Dennis looked strong in the final few miles, but Boivin — a 26-year-old Canadian who was in the break from the beginning — stayed close on his trail.
Phinney had remained quiet for the majority of the 96.6-mile race, patiently biding his time while young, hungry riders like Boivin and King of the Mountain leader Clark rode head of the peloton. At one point early in the race, a group of seven breakaway riders pulled more than four minutes ahead of the 40-man peloton.
But, patience, stamina and a touch of luck paid off for Phinney and the BMC crew. In the final mile, when teams like United Healthcare and Jelly Belly-Maxxis started making a push for the finish, the peloton fell apart, leaving a wide-open lane for Phinney and another BMC teammate, third-place finisher Brent Bookwalter.
Phinney knows a thing or two about patience. He was badly injured at the USA Professional Road Race championships in 2014, when he swerved to avoid a lead motorcycle and crashed into a guardrail. The crash left him with a compound fracture to his left tibia and fibula, and, even more devastating for the young pro, knocked him out of the racing circuit for a full year. Pro Challenge commenters even pointed out that his left calf was noticably smaller than his right.
But, the shrunken calf hardly made a dent when it mattered. Phinney kicked into overdrive after hitting the 1-kilometer mark, pulling far to the right-hand side of Lincoln Avenue to power past the fray. He crossed the finish line a full two lengths ahead of Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare) in second place.
“I can’t remember the last time I genuinely screamed in excitement,” Phinney told Steamboat Today after the race. “I was blown away crossing the finish line.”
Flat and fast
Altitude — the big, bad unknown at the Pro Challenge — hardly factored into the equation for Stage 1. The KOM climbs topped out at 7,871 feet, which is roughly 1,200 feet lower than the entire Breck time trial course. The peloton averaged 26.1 miles per hour and made quick work of the long, relatively-gentle climbs from Steamboat Springs (6,695 feet) to both KOM summits.
Look at the breakaway: Within the first 15 miles, a group of seven riders pulled away from the pack by upwards of three minutes. Clark and Boivin stayed neck-and-neck for the next 70 miles, with Clark taking both KOM sections and Boivin taking the mid-race sprint through downtown.
Back in the peloton, veteran riders like Phinney, Dennis, Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) remained relatively quiet. None of the World Tour teams had a man in the breakaway, although it wasn’t for lack of trying. The start was fast and tight, and, by the time BMC’s Dennis made his move for the lead, heavyweight teams like Russia’s Tinkoff-Saxo and Denver’s Cannondale-Garmin were struggling for position.
By the finish, Tinkoff-Saxo placed just one rider in the top-10, European veteran Ivan Rovny. Cannondale-Garmin fared even worse, with Germany’s Ruben Zepuntke leading the team in 15th place overall.
BMC earned top team honors for Stage 1, with Americans Phinney and Bookwalter in the top three and Italy’s Damiano Caruso coming in 10th. (Dennis fell to 38th after battling with Boivin for the late-race lead.) The rest of the top-10 was a hodgepodge of six teams: United Healthcare, Optum, Jelly Belly-Maxxis, Axeon Cycling, Trek Factory Cycling and Hincapie Racing.
Jelly Belly-Maxxis took second in the team standings thanks to Moldova’s Alexandr Braico and Summit native Taylor Sheldon, who took 11th and 12th respectively.
The first mountain stage
Phinney wears the yellow leader’s jersey for Stage 2, a 115-mile grind from Steamboat Springs to the finish line at Arapahoe Basin, found just five miles short of the Loveland Pass summit. It’s the first true mountain stage of this year’s Pro Challenge. Expect Tinkoff-Saxo to make a push for points thanks to a stacked roster of climbers, including early overall favorite Kreuziger.
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