Saturday’s stage, the fifth of the tour, brought racers from Steamboat Springs, over Rabbit Ears Pass, then again over Swan Mountain, for 8,327 feet of climbing and 105 miles of racing. Like in the previous stages, a small group – this time of four – broke away from the peloton trying to hold off the field and determine the winner among themselves.
This time, however, the break group was full of four strong riders – Ivan Basso, two-time winner of the Tour of Italy and 2nd and 3rd place finisher in the Tour de France as well as Andy Schleck, three-time second place finisher in the Tour de France. It looked like they might be able to do it. But, the ever-looming peloton caught them, yards before the finish, giving the best sprinters in the field a chance to battle out the stage win for the second day in a row.
Team Liquigas-Cannondale pulled a repeat victory, just like they did in Steamboat Springs the day before in Stage 4, organizing themselves well and launching Elia Viviani to the sprint line for his second consecutive stage win.
The peloton finished together and the leaders stayed the same – Levi Leipheimer in the lead, Christian Vande Velde 11 seconds back and Tejay Van Garderen 17 seconds back.
To take the yellow jersey from Leipheimer, Vande Velde and Van Garderen would have to win Stage 6, the final stage from Golden to Denver via Lookout Mountain, to get a ten second advantage. Or they could straight out try and beat Leipheimer to the line by 11 seconds and 17 seconds respectively, a very difficult task given the strength of Leipheimer and his Radio Shack team.
The final stage ended as it started and as the previous two days did – a break, the peloton chasing and catching, a break-away sprint to the finish, again with sprinters from Liquigas-Cannondale winning the stage. Van Garderen gave his best at the end to cross the line first, but he led out too early and was easily pulled in by the dominant sprinters as the finish line approached. In the final stage, it was Viviani setting up the stage win for his teammate, and fellow Italian, Daniel Oss.
After the final stage it was Leipheimer in the lead, Vande Velde in second and Van Garderen in third – the same positions with the same time differentiation as they had been for the last three stages. Leipheimer would keep the yellow jersey and win the inaugural US Cycling Pro Challenge. The top five overall finishers were all American.
Van Garderen didn’t leave empty-handed; he won the blue jersey which is given to the best young rider (under 25). Italian Elia Viviani won the green jersey for the top sprinter, Columbian Rafael Montiel the red for the King of the Mountain, and American Tim Duggan the orange for the most aggressive rider. American team, Garmin-Cervelo, was the fastest team.
For highlights of the course, the competitors, the race and the fans, check this week’s Watch.