At the end of yesterday’s stage at the USA Pro Challenge, Garmin-Sharp said that they “would throw everything at them.” Well they were not kidding. Only 66 kilometers into the Queen Stage, Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) made what seemed a suicide move when he took a solo flyer with still two climbs into the rarefied air of the summits to come.
“We wanted, like I said yesterday, to just keep the pressure on the race. We put two guys up in the breakaway and then at the bottom of Cottonwood, the youngun’ Lachlan (Morton) went off the front and then I actually went just to cause a reaction and then I told Tom once it comes back you go man. And that was it. He just went, flew up to the break and Dave Zabriskie buried himself.” Garmin-Sharp teammate Christian Vande Velde explained.
Danielson made his way across a one minute and thirty second gap to the early break to make junction with his teammate David Zabriskie on the slope of Cottonwood Pass. Zabriskie immediately went to the front to set the pace, shedding riders at they went up and up the 14 miles of dirt climb to the 3,696 meter summit of Cottonwood Pass, the highest-point of the entire week.
By the time they crested, the gap was up to three minutes. Meanwhile behind yellow jersey Tejay van Garderen sat behind his BMC teammates setting the pace at the front of the field. The break, down to six riders flew down the twisting descent into the town of Buena Vista at speeds of over 110 km/hr. Though down to four riders the break still head a gap of two minutes and forty seconds with 66 km to go.
Van Garderen was concerned as the road went up to Independence Pass, all the way up to 3,686 m. “At first I was sitting behind my team pretty comfortable, keeping him at a good gap but then Tom rode amazingly up independence. We had a hard time pulling him back, I had to pull myself going down Independence. It was hard, I was definitely worried.”
Danielson crested the final climb with only one other rider, Francisco Colorado (EPM-Une) which he dropped on the fast descent into Aspen. Behind, van Garderen was leading the chase at the front of a small group. The gap was one minute with 14 km to go.
“That was just nasty.” Danielson said on the final kilometers. “Going over the top with like 2:40, or I don’t know what it was, I was like okay this is going to be difficult. I was hoping for a tailwind, I was like please tailwind. And it was a headwind. I’m 61 kilos, headwind, by myself. I had a couple of corners I could dice it, I was hoping for rain, thunderstorm, hail, something please. And just a big headwind.”
All eyes were on the clock as the kilometers clicked away. Would Danielson hold it?
Danielson continued, “So I had to really grit it out, I had to think of my wife Stephanie, I had to think of my baby Stevie D. I had to think of Stella, I had to think of everyone out there and I was like I’m going to win this race. I haven’t won a race properly since 2005 Tour de Georgia top of Brasstown Bald, or 2006. (note it was 2006). I’m going to win this thing and I’m proud.”
Danielson did hold it, by a slim two seconds. But the surprises were not over. Vande Velde crossed the line three spots ahead of van Garderen and that was enough to put him yellow.
“I was scared, I thought he was going to get caught at the end and I was going to cry for him. In all honesty I didn’t even think of the yellow jersey, I was just trying to stay out of trouble and Tejay had done so much work that he was a little bit further behind.” Vande Velde said.
Vande Velde and van Garderen were tied on time going into the stage and both finished in a group of 26 behind the winner. The first tie breaker is the sum of stage placings, once again both were tied with 30, then it was onto placings on the last stage ridden and that favored Vande Velde who finished in 9th place ahead of van Garderen’s 12th place.
“It doesn’t really change much.” said an obviously disappointed van Garderen about the lost of the yellow jersey. “Fine, their team can control tomorrow. The thing that I think is a little strange is that I looked at the pictures from yesterday, it looked like there was a bit of a gap between me and Christian so I don’t know, I think it’s kind of strange that they gave us the same time but whatever… who’s in yellow on Sunday is what counts.”
According to the BMC Racing Team release, Assistant Director Michael Sayers filed a protest regarding the results of Tuesday’s race after officials judged that Vande Velde crossed the finish line in the same time as van Garderen, who won the stage. Sayers said officials told him they would review the result and issue a ruling Thursday. Regardless of that outcome, Sayers said he was proud of the way the BMC Racing Team defended the lead on a stage that included ascents of two major mountain passes. “We worked very hard as a team to bring Danielson’s group back,” he said. “It was on pins and needles the whole day. The team rode way better than you could have ever believed and we were a really strong unit today.”
The battle is now over. Vande Velde and van Garderen are still tied on time with four stages to go including the final time trial.