In a battle between the seasoned veterans and the newcomers, Stage 7 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge came down to a matter of seconds in the Individual Time Trial that saw veteran Christian Vande Velde (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda take home the overall win. In the “race of truth,” Taylor Phinney (USA) of BMC Racing Team put up an impressive time of 17’25”50 to claim the final stage win of 2012 in front of a monumental crowd in downtown Denver. Vande Velde took second in the stage, followed by Tejay van Garderen (USA) of BMC Racing Team. In the overall, van Garderen took second, followed by Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
“I was really excited yesterday after I stole some time from Tejay van Garderen and was able to keep close to Levi Leipheimer. It was an amazing race, straight to finish,” said Vande Velde. “The opportunity to participate in a race like this, of this caliber is a beautiful thing. As long as there are races like the USA Pro Challenge in America, I want to race as long as I can. The crowds are so positive and so happy.”
After a tough week of racing over mountains at high altitude and with the top-10 riders only separated by about 52 seconds, the Stage 7 Individual Time Trial was anyone’s race. By removing the team factor, the flat and fast course in downtown was a tough individual test and a fight for the General Classification.
Using many of the same roads as the final Denver finish circuits of 2011, the 9.5m/15.3km course started and ended near the State Capitol Building in Denver’s Civic Center Park. The riders first faced a familiar out-and-back section along Speer Blvd. and Colfax Ave., with a slight detour through the entertainment district along Larimer St. Returning toward the start area on Colfax, they turned north to 17th Ave. to a long section of straight road, eventually delivering them to City Park. A short, but technical run through the park returned the riders to 17th Ave., allowing the huge crowds of spectators to see their favorite riders pass by again. Two quick turns put the riders back on Broadway headed south to the finish line adjacent to Civic Center Park.
With each rider besting the man before him, U.S. National Time Trial Champion Dave Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda posted the first time that stuck at 18’10”74, which would eventually put him in tenth place overall. That was until Phinney, who hit the block 26th today, and rode at an average speed of 32.7 mph, crossed the line with a 17’25”50, a time that would stick for the rest of the day and give him the final stage win of 2012.
“I’m beyond excited to win today. It’s a great honor to win in the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge,” said Phinney. “This was one of the best weekends of my life. Coming into Boulder the crowds just kept getting bigger and bigger; I was getting teary-eyed.”
For most of the day the top-3 would be Phinney, Peter Velits (SVK) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Tom Zirbel (USA) of Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies. That was until Tom Danielson (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda logged a time of 17’54”62 to take third and knock Zirbel down to fourth.
With the day coming to a close and the top-ranked riders getting ready to head out on their test against the clock, the results between Vande Velde, van Garderen and Leipheimer at the splits were close and everyone was watching to see who would take the win. In the end Vande Velde finished ahead of the other two GC contenders to take home the overall win.
“We have some of the best cyclists in the world racing in Colorado,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the Pro Challenge. “This is one of the biggest stage races in the history of our country. We call this America’s race, and it really is. The crowds were even bigger than they were last year; Golden to Boulder was pretty magical. I can’t wait for 2013 and we are already talking about routes.”
Last year’s fifth place finisher George Hincapie (USA) of BMC Racing Team, who is a former three-time national road champion and holds the record for participating in the most Tour de France races (17), capped off his professional cycling career today with the 2012 USA Pro Challenge.
“I really felt the emotion from the crowd and this is what’s gotten me through the last several years,” said Hincapie. “The support from all of you is amazing and I’m so happy for this to be my last race ever.
The final jerseys of the 2012 race were awarded this afternoon under blue skies in downtown Denver. Vande Velde re-claimed the Exergy Leader Jersey. Several other jersey winners remained unchanged, with Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek retaining the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey (no points were awarded today), Tyler Farrar (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda the Waste Management Sprint Jersey and Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski (USA) of Bontrager Livestrong Team the Aquadraat Best Young Rider Jersey. Tom Danielson (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda was awarded the Evolve Most Aggressive Rider Jersey for his overall effort throughout the week.