On the Road to Denver: Pro Challenge Blows Through Montrose
by Peter Shelton
Aug 22, 2012 | 2708 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TOUR DE MONTROSE – Riders passed in front of the Montrose Pavilion at the start of Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge. The seven-day stage race finishes in Denver on Sunday. (Photo by Peter Shelton)
TOUR DE MONTROSE – Riders passed in front of the Montrose Pavilion at the start of Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge. The seven-day stage race finishes in Denver on Sunday. (Photo by Peter Shelton)
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MONTROSE – Even before Stage 2 got underway, before the riders signed in and rolled up to the start line at the Montrose Pavilion, the buzz was electric.

A mini-Renaissance fair raged on the grass infield, with food and beer and souvenirs. Barry Bonds strolled through the crowd, posing for pictures and showing off his new biker body. From the announcers’ stand, Dave Towle and Brad Sohner practically vibrated with tales of Monday’s Stage 1, from Durango to Telluride. “We’re going to be talking about that one for a long time,” one of them shouted into the microphone.

Indeed, the racing on the first day of the USA Pro Challenge surprised just about everyone. “Garmin Sharp Barracuda tried to blow up the race!” Dave and Brad repeated again and again. The Boulder-based team, considered by some the “home team” for the Colorado tour, had sent four riders out as part of a 22-man breakaway that quickly built a gap of five minutes on the main group and threatened to effectively steal the seven-day race on Day One.

It didn’t work out that way. The peloton worked extra hard to reel in the outlaws (video of David Zabriskie vomiting off his bike proved the point), and the first day’s finish came down to a sprint won by Garmin’s Tyler Farrar. But it showed that Garmin, and some of the other big-name teams, had come to race.

“Yeah, we wanted to cause some havoc out there,” Garmin’s Nathan Haas told Dave/Brad at the Montrose sign-in.

“We made everyone hit the panic button,” said Peter Stetina, another Garmin rider, and a Boulder native. The Pro Challenge people had predicted a 3:50 p.m. finish in Telluride, but the racers went so hard over the 125 miles, they finished an hour early.

RadioShack’s Ben King told the mellifluous Dave/Brad, “Yeah, [after Monday] guys are going to be feeling it at the end of the week.”

Maybe, I wondered, the guys would be feeling it on Tuesday’s Stage 2, so much that it would be a 99-mile recovery day, a comparative couch ride to Crested Butte.

You couldn’t tell, of course, at the start. The riders all looked fit and hungry. And tiny. Six-foot five-inch George Hincapie towers over most of them by a full foot. On the podium, the kissing girls – blonde on the right, brunette on the left – have to bend at the knees to get level with the riders’ cheeks.

When they took off, their 117 fine-tuned machines sounded like so many Swiss watches. (One hundred twenty-four started in Durango; seven abandoned, that is, accepted rides in the “broom wagon,” their race over.) To save weight, some of the bikes don’t even have paint on their carbon fiber. Their tires are rock hard. I asked a Garmin mechanic who was pumping up Peter Stetina’s tires how much pressure they took. “Eight,” he said briskly. “Is that metric?”

“Yeah. About 120 psi.” I had my mountain bike with me. I was going to try to scoot out to East Main Street after the first in-town circuit to catch them as they accelerated, as the race “went hot” on the climb to Cerro Summit. I consider my tires fully inflated, pretty much rock hard, when I’ve got them up to 35 psi.

As it happened, Stage 2 was nearly as brutal, in its unique way, as was Stage 1. A group of a dozen riders bolted ahead of the main pack on the two Category 3 climbs, Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Summit. They managed to stay out front around the reservoir, through the town of Gunnison and all the way to the town of Crested Butte. But on the three-mile uphill dash to the finish at the ski area base in Mount Crested Butte, the peloton finally caught them.

Young Tejay Van Garderen won the stage and, and the leader’s yellow jersey, which he will wear on Stage 3, Wednesday. The previous yellow jersey, Tyler Farrar, the sprinter, straggled in 57th, 4:39 back of the winner. Maybe his legs were feeling it; maybe, as the racers said, he lit too many matches on the first day.

Van Garderen is an up-and-coming star. He just turned 24. He finished third in this race last year and fifth at this year’s Tour de France, where he also took the Best Young Rider jersey. A lot of people, including Dave/Brad have picked him to win this second Pro Challenge.

He looked happy, and relaxed, at the award ceremony. The kissing girls didn’t have to bend down; he’s 6’ 1”,148 lbs. He told Dave/Brad before the start, “We’re livin’ the dream right now,” referring to other American young guns in the race, including Boulderites Taylor Phinney and Peter Stetina.

It was hard to tell, watching the little screen this afternoon (Radio Shack’s Tour Tracker podcast), just how fast Van Garderen was going when he blew by the last of the breakaway to win today’s stage. But I had a clear example this morning.

After the peloton’s ceremonial first loop, I hopped on my bike and raced north on Hillcrest to catch them leaving town. I had a straight shot. They were cruising west on Niagra then north on Townsend, then a little jog for a few blocks around mid-town, back to Townsend, right on Main, and good half mile, maybe more to Hillcrest.

It wasn’t even close. They blew through while I was still a couple of blocks shy of the intersection. Even if I’d made it in time, I would have been breathing too hard to hold the camera steady.

pshelton@watchnewspapers.com

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