On paper, stage 5 of the USA Pro Challenge looked like a stage for the sprinter, and for once, the expected outcome materialized – though it materialized faster than expected as the winner crossed the finish line seven minutes before the expected fastest time on the stage timetable. In the end, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) easily outsprinted the bunch to take the win, his second after a long dry spell. Taylor Phinney (BMC), Alessandro Bazzana (Team Type 1-sanofi), Alex Candelario (Optum pb/ Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Hugo Houle (Spidertech) rounded out the top 5.
“It’s always hard to get the ball rolling but once you have a bit of momentum, the wins keep on coming. I didn’t have super legs today, certainly not the legs I had on stage 1 but I knew it was a good finish for me. The guys did a lot of work to make it a sprint so I had to pay them back.” Farrar said after the stage. Extra motivation was added by finishing in Colorado Springs, his team’s hometown.
The obligatory early break was formed on the slope of the first and only categorized climb of the day, Hoosier Pass. The seven riders off the front started to push the gap up, all the way up to six minutes while the field took it relatively easy. Soon the sprinters teams, UnitedHealthcare and Garmin-Sharp, put in riders at the front of the field in the BMC rotation.
The scenario continued for the next 160 km or so as the field slowly reeled in the breakaway riders. With less than 25 km to go, the break, now down to three riders, was only 15 seconds ahead. The BMC team, with yellow jersey Tejay van Garderen sitting safely behind his teammates, were in full control and full flight at the front. Their goal was to keep van Garderen safe and if possible, lead out Phinney.
The break was caught with two laps to go on the 3.8-km circuit in downtown Colorado Springs and chaos ensued. Attacks and counters flew at the front, but all were mowed down, first by the BMC team and then by the UnitedHealthcare leadout train of Rory Sutherland and Karl Menzies who took over. Behind sprinters were moving up.
The unusually long finishing straightaway, nearly 1.2 kilometers of flat, straight pavement, provided a unique tactical challenge for Performance Director Jonas Carney and his Optum p/b KBS leadout train.
“We don’t see a lot of long, straight finishes like this in the US. Sprints like that are all about timing,” said Carney. “The guys can’t get to the front too early, or too late. We chose to go with a two man lead out train, with Friedman hitting out for Cando. We used (Andy) Bajadali, (Tom) Zirbel, and Creed to protect Candelario and Friedman, and then counted on Friedman to deliver Candelario to the line. Friedman is a lead-out specialist and has amazing bike handling skills, so we knew we could trust him to do the job.”
“I was at the back of the peloton on the false flats but I hung on and when I saw the chance of maybe winning the stage, I gave it all.” said Houle. “The sprint started with two kilometers to go, and I found myself around 12th position, I thought it would slow down but that didn’t happen. When I saw that, I accelerated to move up in the final kilometer.
The UHC squad was swarmed as riders started their sprint. Optum p/b KBS’ Mike Friedman leading out Candelario took over the front briefly while Farrar was a few riders back. “It was a chaotic sprint, because the roads are so big. It was very hard for my team to organize, but UnitedHealthcare did a good job. With the roads so big, it always swarms and I got boxed in around 300, but I managed to find a little break in the road.”
Phinney also found a gap to squeaze through. “I was third wheel with 300 meters to go, then Tyler started coming around me with someone else and somebody else coming around him. I thought my sprint was over because I left it too late, but then I found a little gap and managed to weasel my way out. But by then, Tyler had opened his sprint already. I was gaining on him in the last 50 meters or so, but he was letting up and getting ready to celebrate.”
“With such a long lead into the finish, a good sprint is all about timing,” said Candelario. “The team was incredible all day and stayed patient and calm through a pretty crazy closing circuit. Friedman was rock solid, and he put me in the best possible position heading to the line, and I gave it everything I had.”
“I was not in the best position as I fought to take Tyler’s wheel, so I had to jump hard from about 350 meters,” Houle said. “I was going so fast when I got around two Optum riders in front of me – I was so close!”
Farrar’s speed was clocked at 72 km/h as he posted his victory salute. Phinney, Bazzana, Candelario and Houle followed.
After a crash-marred season, Farrar was happy with his riding. “With Stage 1, even if it did come to a sprint, I wasn’t confident. The fact that I won, it shows I’m in good form. If you come off the Tour de France healthy, you’re good. Obviously the 2012 season has been frustrating for me; crashed more in the past 6-12 months than I have in the last few years. But I had some time to rest up, so now everything is back on track.”
U.S. Olympian Phinney said his runner-up finish exceeded expectations, particularly after he crashed on the race’s opening stage, bruising his left elbow and knee. “Sunday’s timetrial is a perfect length for me, 15 kilometers, relatively short. I had a crash on the first stage that kind of put me in a hole and I’ve been digging my way out ever since and today was the first day where I felt back to sort of normal Taylor and that’s a great sign going into tomorrow’s stage and the time trial in Denver. “
Bazzana claimed his second podium of the race, so far on stage 5. “Our team worked so hard all day today, at the end of a week of really hard racing in the mountains. Georg Preidler and Joey Rosskopf turned themselves inside out on the road from Breckenridge today, and then kept working set me up in the city circuits for the sprint. We had a great day for Team Type 1 in Colorado Springs.”
Houle was also happy with his day. “It’s my best result in an international race. It means something to finish fifth in a stage in such a high caliber race.”