BEAVER CREEK — Stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge was decided by a display of strong climbing, but it was also won by a test of nerves.
The nearly 104-mile stage from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek took riders on a mostly rolling course punctuated by three King of the Mountain climbs and ended on a rain-drenched Category 1 ascent up Bachelor Gulch. The climb, which averages a 10.3-percent grade, splintered the field and separated Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) and Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) from the other race leaders. Rain fell steadily as the race reached the base of Beaver Creek, but became a downpour as riders crested the King of the Mountain climb on Bachelor Gulch and navigated a technical descent.
“As soon as we started going down, it was wet and tricky,” said van Garderen, who moved into first place in the general classification. “Janier (Acevedo) took a corner hot, and Danielson looked unsure, so I took a chance and went. Janier stepped up and was right there with me.”
The two worked together on the final climb up to Beaver Creek Village and crossed the line together, Acevedo taking the stage win.
In the general classification, the stage win moved him into third place overall, trailing van Garderen by 30 seconds. Mathias Frank (BMC) took third in the stage and trails teammate van Garderen by 4 seconds in second place.
Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) solidified his overall King of the Mountains title with a wide margin of points. He tipped his helmet to the climbing that the queen’s stage threw at the riders.
“That thing’s incredible,” he said of the Bachelor Gulch climb. “I’m just impressed that anyone can ride that fast. If I lived here I probably wouldn’t even drive up it. It’s a heck of a course.”
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) held onto the sprinter’s jersey, Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) maintained the Best Young Rider jersey and Michael Rogers (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) was named the Most Courageous Rider of stage 4.
Wind and rollers
The race rolled out of Steamboat Springs with a steady wind that didn’t prevent a break of about 10 riders from going almost immediately from the start. The lead group whittled down to a promising group of about five that stayed several minutes ahead of the pack through a series of rolling climbs.
Van Garderen said that until the race hit the final climbs, team tactics became tricky.
“It was all about who was going to work in the group,” he said of the early breaks. “Once we got to the climbs, my goal was to distance Danielson on the G.C. I think Garmin’s goal was to make it hard up the climb, which they did a good job of – they whittled the field down to nothing. But I think they underestimated me and my team.”
Thursday’s results mean van Garderen will return to today’s Vail time trial course wearing yellow, as he did in 2011, where he had a disappointing day on the 10-mile route.
“I’m confident going into the time trial, but nothing is given,” he said. “Last time I had a 35-second gap, and I lost it. I just need to manage the lead and go through the motions as I would any other time trial, whether or not I had the jersey.”