Cycling Fever Hits a Whole New Level
by Samantha Wright
Aug 22, 2012 | 2561 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cyclists approach the Stage 2 finish in Mt. Crested Butte on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
Cyclists approach the Stage 2 finish in Mt. Crested Butte on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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CRESTED BUTTE – Sprinting through a cacophony of clanging cowbells and frantic fans, American Tejay Van Garderen of BMC Racing Team came out of nowhere with Christian Vande Velde on his tail for a thrilling Stage 2 finish of the USA Pro Challenge in Mt. Crested Butte on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 21.

Van Garderen, 24, threw his hands up in the air as he rolled across the line. “I  wasn’t  going  into  the  last  four kilometers thinking I was going to win, but I knew I was going to try,” he said.

A Montana native who now lives in Boulder, Van Garderen came to this year’s Pro Challenge fresh from the 2012 Tour de France. His job there, as a member of BMC’s squad, was to protect team leader Cadel Evans, the mighty Aussie who won the prestigious race in 2011. But when Evans lost time in the mountains, van Garderen got the team’s nod to ride for himself, finishing the tour in fifth place as well as winning the best young rider category.

Van Garderen also competed in the London Olympic Games, where he had a middle-of-the-pack finish in the cycling road races.

“July was a fun month,” he said at a press conference in Durango before the start of the 2012 Pro Challenge. “But even during that whole month, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be fit and ready for this race; it is a hometown race. I definitely am excited to be here.”

That excitement shone through as he strode out onto the winner’s podium after the finish and donned the yellow jersey that proclaims his status as the new overall leader of the race.  He’s hoping to take that yellow jersey home, he said. And as the protected leader of his team, this just might be his year to do it, building on his third place overall finish in the Pro Challenge last year.

One rider who might give Van Garderen a run for his money, as evidenced by Tuesday’s finish, is fellow Boulder transplant Christian Vande Velde, of the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda team, who came in second overall in last year’s USA Pro Challenge. The 36-year-old Illinois native has spent significant time in Colorado during his career and knows the route well. On Tuesday, Vande Velde’s teammate Tom Danielson, who started his cycling career at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, was wearing the red and white polka-dotted Nissan King of the Mountains kit – he’s rated as one of the world’s top climbers.

Shawn Hunter, CEO of the Pro Challenge, is elated about how this year’s race is shaping up so far, from its boisterous send-off in Durango Monday morning to its thrilling Stage 1 and 2 finishes, and all of the drama in between.

“Today was another really great day of racing,” Hunter said. “The 2012 USA Pro Challenge is going to take these riders to new heights, and from what we’ve seen so far the riders and the fans are ready for it.”

Fans in Crested Butte certainly are. CB has always been a cycling town (more so for mountain biking than road racing), but now that the town is in its second year of hosting a stage of the Pro Challenge, cycling fever here has hit a whole new level.

Many townies eschewed the chance to watch the Sprint Line dash through the historic downtown area in favor of crushing into free shuttles to stake out a spot at the finish line a few kilometers up the road in the ski village of Mt. Crested Butte, where they cheered the action on the Jumbotron until suddenly the riders were upon them.

The Stage 2 finish is considered the first decisive point of the race. After pedaling along a relatively mild course from Montrose through Gunnison to Crested Butte, riders face a final, nasty little two-kilometer hill climb to Mt. Crested Butte. Last year’s overall winner, Levi Leipheimer, established his lead right here, taking over the leader’s yellow jersey for the first time.

It remains to be seen whether Van Garderen can pull a repeat. At a press conference immediately following the Stage 2 awards ceremony, he acknowledged the difficulty of this year’s 683-mile course, which has more than 42,000 feet of vertical climbing – much of it happening in Wednesday’s Queen Stage, from Gunnison to Aspen over Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass. “I think with the layout of the course, it’s not going to calm down at all,” he predicted of the competition. “Every day is going to be a battle.”

For full results, archived footage, GPS data, course information, race play-by-play and more, visit the official race website at www.prochallenge.com.

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