BRECKENRIDGE — Weather was the story again Friday for Stage 5 of the USA Pro Challenge as Aspen BMC rider Tejay Van Garderen was able to maintain his lead on the field in the general classification.
Luxembourg’s Laurent Didier took the stage win with a late attack on Garmin-Sharp’s Ben King. King held on to the lead headed into the final climb up Moonstone Road in Breckenridge when Didier made his move.
“I looked back, and it was just him on the front, chasing, chasing, chasing,” King said of Didier’s attack. “At one point, I really thought I was going to win.”
King had a 15- to 20-second lead coming down from Hoosier Pass into Breckenridge. But Didier had simply bided his time with the final climb still remaining.
Playing it Smart
“I had to play smart,” Didier told NBC Sports Network after the race. “I let Ben King go.”
In the post-race news conference Didier expanded on his strategy.
“I did the race in 2011. I didn’t do the climb but I knew it. I watched last year on television. I knew the last part is quite hard. I went all in.”
He crossed the finish of the 104-mile stage in 3 hours, 50 minutes, 38 seconds with Garmin’s Janier Acevedo and Smartstop’s Rob Britton on his wheel for the final sprint. King finished fourth 15 seconds back.
Van Garderen and the other top contenders finished 1 minute 33 seconds behind the leaders. No rider in Thursday’s break was within 12 minutes from overall contention, leaving the leaders able to finish in the middle of the pack.
A 13-man break that included Friday’s top finishers formed early on in the day before the climb up Hoosier Pass. The large break built a four-and-a-half minute lead over van Garderen and the rest of the peloton as they headed from Woodland Park to Fairplay. The pack gained ground on the break after Fairplay at the start of the climb up Hoosier.
Weather affected rider strategy and also disrupted most of the day’s TV broadcast. Supporting helicopters were unable to take off initially due to conditions, disabling live broadcast from the course. Race coverage was only able to catch portions of the final miles into Breckenridge.
“It was absolutely miserable,” King said of conditions. Riders suffered through dropping temperatures, heavy rain and occasional hail through much of the stage, including the climb up Hoosier Pass.
“I saw that some of the guys were hurting out there,” van Garderen told NBCSN. “Man there were a lot of guys shivering.”
Van Garderen seized the opportunity and his remaining energy for a late surge that added a few seconds to his lead over some other GC contenders, including rival Tom Danielson.
In addition to van Garderen’s move, Friday’s stage created some disruption in the overall leader board. Van Garderen’s BMC teammate Ben Hermans — who started the day in third — dropped to ninth, 1:49 behind the lead.
“I think he was struggling from the cold,” van Garderen said.
Danielson lost 5 seconds on his rival but moved to fourth. Jelly Belly UCI continental team member Serghei Tvetcov jumped to third, 37 seconds back, with another strong performance. Jelly Belly team manager Danny Van Haute credited his team’s success so far this week to the week spent training at Keystone prior to the start.
Tinkoff-Saxo Tour de France rider Rafal Majka held on to second, 20 seconds behind the van Garderen.
“I was glad I was able to pick up a few seconds on Danielson,” van Garderen said, “but Majka is still pretty close and making me nervous for the time trial tomorrow.”
Stage 6 is today’s Vail Time Trial.
“A bad day tomorrow, that could be the end of it,” van Garderen said.