With apologies to the former President George W. Bush, is the Vail Time Trial “The Decider” when it comes to the USA Pro Challenge?
The two times (2011 and 2013) the Pro Challenge has had the run up Vail Pass, the stage has determined the race’s winner, and Tejay van Garderen usually is involved in someway or another.
So welcome to Stage 6 of the USA Pro Challenge, which starts at 1:05 p.m. today. The riders will go off at 1-minute intervals with Aaron Perry of New Zealand doing the honors. Cyclists will start in reverse order of their “general classification,” or overall standing.
By the time the race gets to the top (or last/first) 20, starting with Columbia’s Janie Alexis Acevedo Colle at 2:44 p.m., it’s 2 minutes between racers with van Garderen being the last at 3:22 p.m.
Van Garderen takes a 20-second lead over Poland’s Rafal Majka into this stage followed by Serghei Tvetcov of Romania (37 seconds back), and fellow Americans Tom Danielson (39 seconds) and Matthew Busche (51 ticks).
If history is any guide, racers can make up time during the roughly 25-26 minutes of the stage.
Talking before the time trial may not be the best idea. Van Garderen won the previous stage — Gunnison to Aspen — to the time trial that year and, in the process, took the leader’s yellow jersey from Levi Leipheimer.
A the post-race news conference in Aspen, van Garderen talked about how he caught Leipheimer at the conclusion of that stage and ended up providing some bulletin-board material.
“All due respect to Levi, he’s not the strongest descender. He sometime loses his nerve a little bit. That’s one of my strong suits: I’ve got balls, so I just went for it.”
That came back to haunt van Garderen. He went into the time trial 34 seconds ahead and left Vail 17 back, a swing of 51 seconds.
In a related development, 51 seconds separate this year’s top five. In 2011, the time trial was the deciding stage as Leipheimer had an 11-second lead on Christian Vande Velde after Vail and won the overall by 11 seconds.
Eagle County had two stages last year. Van Garderen took the lead by four seconds on the Steamboat Springs-to-Beaver Creek leg, going into the time trial.
On Vail Pass, van Garderen won the stage by only 4 seconds over climbing specialist Andrew Talansky. More importantly, van Garderen blew away the pack of leaders. His 4-second lead swelled to 1 minute, 30 seconds, and that was the ball game as far as the 2013 USA Pro Challenge. Van Garderen cruised to the overall title two days later.
Not exactly going out on a limb, but it will not be as close as the time trial was in 2011, when Leipheimer beat Vande Velde by 1-hundredth of a second. What are the odds of that happening again?
Another prediction one can feel confident about is that today’s time trial will decide the USA Pro Challenge. Sunday’s Stage 7 is a cruiser from Boulder to Denver with little elevation change. The peloton usually goes out and comes in together. Today’s the last chance to make a move.
Judging history, roughly 1 minute, an eternity in cycling, is up for grabs.
Enjoy the race.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.