ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — While BMC Racing and Garmin-Sharp have traded stage wins, and the leader’s jersey, over the first three days of racing in Colorado at the USA Pro Challenge, the RadioShack-Nissan squad has been biding its time, searching for an opportunity to put one of its several GC riders into contention for either a stage win or the overall lead.
RadioShack won the race last year with Levi Leipheimer, now with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and brought an all-star squad to Colorado, but has yet to leave an impression on the race.
Nearly half the team’s squad have stood on the overall podium of pro stage races, including Chris Horner, Jakob Fuglsang, Andreas Klöden, Jens Voigt and Matthew Busche.
Most recently, Horner won the overall at the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, Klöden won the 2011 Tour of the Basque Country, Fuglsang won the 2012 Tours of Austria and Luxembourg, and Busche finished second overall last week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Voigt has won races such as the Tour of Germany and Criterium International, and Klöden has finished on the podium at the Tour de France.
However, whether due to the race’s spot on the calendar, just a few weeks after the Tour de France, or because of its elevation, with two passes on Wednesday over 12,000 feet, RadioShack has been unable to truly contest for stage wins or the overall, which has been dominated by Tejay van Garderen, Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson.
After three stages, RadioShack has four riders in the top 20 — Horner and Busche sit just 12 seconds behind Vande Velde, with Klöden at 17 seconds and Fuglsang at 19 seconds. Kiwi George Bennett sits 21st overall, 33 seconds behind van Garderen.
Yet what the team is lacking, it seems, is the belief that it has a rider who can win the overall.
“As it looks now, we don’t have one leader here,” Fuglsang said. “We have four or five guys that are well placed in the general, but to be able to go for the overall victory that’s going to be hard for us. I don’t think any of us prepared 100 percent for this race. Tejay’s super strong now and so are some of the other guys.”
Over three days of racing, the team has taken its lumps. Voigt exerted himself in the breakaway in stages 1 and 2, calling himself “extremely tired” after stage 3, while Ben King crashed heavily on stage 2 on the run-in to Crested Butte, suffering road rash and finishing last on the day.
“Everything is painful and sore, but it’s superficial,” King said in Aspen after stage 3. “I woke up and I was pretty stiff, but nothing’s broken. The only thing I was really worried about was my head, because I hit my head really hard, and for about half an hour after the crash I was pretty spaced out, and I’ve never really felt that way after a crash. I was a little bit concerned about that, I had a headache, but I think that’s probably from passing 13,000 feet [sic] twice today. I probably wasn’t the only one with a headache. I think it should be better every day from now.”
Meanwhile Horner said he is simply lacking the form to attack in the high mountains. He gave up 12 seconds to Vande Velde and van Garderen in Crested Butte, and he lost contact with the lead group over the top of Independence Pass, catching on during the long descent into Aspen.
“I got popped on the climb and had to make it back on the descent,” Horner said. “I wasn’t far off, maybe 50 meters. This altitude is not kind to me — ever. Maybe it’s too much racing, not enough rest, recovery from the Tour… maybe it’s the altitude, I don’t know. I certainly think I could go top 10 here, and of course, tactically, we have so many guys from RadioShack-Nissan… maybe we can get one of the guys in the leader’s jersey for a little while.”
Busche, who finished second to BMC Racing’s Johann Tschopp in Utah, said his body had been “acting a little weird” over Independence Pass, adding that while his power meter wasn’t telling him he’d gone into the red, he felt like he had.
“It would be nice to land a guy on the podium by the end of the week, but it’s pretty well an honest truth that compared to Tejay, or Levi, or some of the top GC guys, we don’t have that real GC contender, so we do need to go for a stage win,” Busche said. “No one really has the legs right now to do what Garmin did today, or ride against Tejay when he attacked (in Crested Butte). It’s just the way the situation is right now. It’s a little unfortunate; we wish we had someone that was really flying, but we’re going to just keep doing our best, and hopefully we can pull something off here.”
For the moment, Voigt said, it appears the battle for supremacy is between BMC and Garmin, with RadioShack hoping to find an opportunity somewhere in between the two.
“I think Garmin has larger depth at the moment,” he said. “They have three or four guys who can win this race, or take a podium place, so for the moment it looks like they’re doing the right thing, trying to keep the race open, trying to race aggressive, make the other teams work, make the other teams tired, while we just sit in the middle and try not to get killed in the fight between BMC and Garmin. We’ll just try to profit from it and hope we still have a good chance in the end.”