Mathias Frank won stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge in Breckenridge, Colorado, on Tuesday. Frank (BMC Racing) attacked from a late escape on the final climb to Boreas Pass to win.
Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) was second and overnight leader Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was third in the 202-kilometer leg from Aspen.
Morton was able to keep Frank in sight down a technical, 4km descent to the finish and earned a place atop the overall standings for his effort. Morton leads Frank by two seconds in the GC, with Sagan third, tied with Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), at 11 seconds.
“For me, the stage win was the most important thing,” said Frank. “That’s what I got, so I’m really happy.”
The third USA Pro Challenge continues Wednesday with the 170km third stage from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs.
An early escape on the three-climb Challenge from Aspen to Breckenridge
The riders faced a tough menu on the race’s second day, with the 22km ascent of the Cat. 1 Independence Pass coming in the opening moments of the stage. From the top of the 12,095-foot pass, a long descent led to the halfway point of the stage, before the road tilted up to the Cat. 2 Hoosier Pass. A high-speed descent led to Breckenridge and the foot of the Moonstone Road climb to the Cat. 3 Boreas Pass KOM. A technical, 4km descent led to the finish in downtown Breckenridge.
A day after gluing the race back together late in Aspen, Michael Schär (BMC Racing) went on the attack on Independence Pass. After an early attack that included Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard), and Mathias Frank (BMC) failed to shake free, Schär was able to cut loose on his own.
Mountains classification leader Matthew Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Mexican champion Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly-Kenda) followed the Swiss champ and the trio rode clear toward the race’s highest point.
The gap increased to more than four minutes high up on Independence Pass, which tops out at 12,095 feet in elevation, but Lemus could not maintain the pace and lost contact near the top.
Peter Kennaugh (Sky) and J.J. Haedo (Jamis) were among the riders to face trouble on the Cat. 1 climb, and both abandoned early.
“Peter is just really fatigued,” a Sky spokesperson told VeloNews. “He’s been struggling over the last few days, and he was struggling on the first part of the climb [Independence Pass], so he decided to pull out there and then, rather than make matters worse by carrying on.”
Up the road, Schär took top points on the climb ahead of Cooke, with Lemus third. Tyler Wren (Jamis) led the peloton over the top more than five minutes behind the leaders.
Two riders — David Millar (Garmin) and Kanstantin Sitsou (Sky) — pushed across the gap on the 69km descent to the stage’s first intermediate sprint in Buena Vista. They made contact in the canyon leading to the Arkansas River Valley and Lemus took top points on the line.
The gap was 3:55 with 100km to go.
From Buena Vista, the road climbed 79km to the summit of the Cat. 2 Hoosier Pass and the peloton put in a hard chase across the often windy South Park region. With 95km to go, the gap was down to 3:10. Five kilometers later, it was down to 2:25, with Cannondale chasing hard for overall leader Peter Sagan.
Cannondale and RadioShack drove the bunch up the long, low-grade approach to the second sprint line, in Fairplay, and the foot of Hoosier Pass. The gap came down gradually and finally, with 70km to go, the hunters had their prey. Lemus was the final survivor, attacking solo from the group, but the Mexican champion was soon back in the peloton.
A race-shaping breakaway on Hoosier Pass?
The counter-attacks came quickly and a group of roughly 15 riders sprang free: Greg Van Avermaet and Mathias Frank (BMC Racing); Lawson Craddock (Livestrong); Andy Schleck and Tiago Machado (RadioShack); Lachlan Morton and Rohan Dennis (Garmin); Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies); Chad Beyer (Champion System); Bruno Pires (Saxo); Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare); Phil Gaimon (Bissell); Davide Villella (Cannondale); Joshua Edmondson (Sky); and Wren.
“At that time, we just had to have representation in the breakaway,” said Morton. “It’s always better to be in front than chasing, so we put two — me and Rohan Dennis — on the front to take pressure off the other guys.”
The escapees took a quick two minutes on the peloton. With a wide representation in the move, none of the teams in the bunch were motivated to chase right away and the advantage rose to upwards of 2:30.
Van Avermaet took top points in Fairplay ahead of Schleck.
The peloton wouldn’t wait long to chase and what appeared to be a likely successful attack soon saw its advantage coming down. Pires’ Saxo teammates went to the front of the bunch and ticked up the pace. With 35km to go, the gap was down to two minutes. With Rory Sutherland tucked into the back of a four-man Saxo train, it appeared as though the Danish squad was riding for the Australian winner of the Flagstaff Mountain stage in 2012.
Dennis lost contact with the breakaway as the road tilted up, leaving Morton to carry Garmin’s colors in the move.
The escapees carried just 1:40 onto the base of the Hoosier Pass climb. Morton, Beyer, and Craddock pushed the pace at the front of the group.
Morton makes a run for it
With 26.5km to go, Morton took the bit on his own and attacked. Schleck tried to follow, but could not, and the young Australian — the winner of the Mount Nebo stage at the Larry H. Miller of Utah earlier this month — pressed on alone. With 1km to go on the climb, Morton had nearly 30 seconds on the chasers and 1:30 on the peloton.
“The break wasn’t working well, so I got the go ahead to attack and go for it,” he said. “I was thinking about the stage win, but not really the jersey, but I’ll take it.”
The pace at the front dropped Anthony and Jones off the group and they were soon back in the peloton. Michael Rogers (Saxo) drove the bunch to the top of the climb.
Craddock and Frank struck out in pursuit of Morton high up on Hoosier Pass, but the Aussie went over the summit alone, two minutes ahead of Rogers and Co.
“We had a plan to go for the stage win. I was supposed to go in good moves, if dangerous guys like Lachlan were in the move,” said Frank. “When he went, I followed; once you are in situation like this, you can see what happens. When I saw the gap on Hoosier, I knew we would go for the stage win. From this moment, I was going for the stage win.”
Morton pushed down the high-speed descent toward Breckenridge, but Frank pulled Craddock onto his wheel with 17km to go. The trio held 45 seconds over the chasers and started working together, the Moonstone climb to Boreas Pass waiting for them.
Just seven riders remained in the chase group: Van Avermaet, Schleck, Machado, Beyer, Pires, Wren, and Villella. Behind them, UnitedHealthcare led the peloton on the gradual descent from the foot of Hoosier Pass to Breckenridge. The American squad led the bunch into Breckenridge 55 seconds after the leading trio, and with the chase group in sight. Schleck and Co. would soon find themselves enfolded in the peloton.
The leaders pushed up the final climb, 1:15 ahead of the bunch with 1km to go. Craddock’s shoulders dipped left and right under the pressure. Frank sat behind Morton, who knew the climb well, having lived near Breckenridge during summers as a junior rider.
“It’s incredible, been coming here since I was 13, to ride into town today at front, was cool,” said Morton. “I thought it would be an advantage to know the last hill, but it’s maybe better not knowing, because I knew how hard it would be.”
Garmin and Colombia took up the chase in the peloton behind the trio.
Frank jumped inside the final kilometer on the climb, unhitching Craddock in a narrow corridor of fans. Morton followed, but came unglued near the summit. Frank led over the KOM line with Morton five seconds back.
With 800 meters to go on the climb, Sagan attacked in the peloton, followed by Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). Darwin Atapuma (Colombia) and Tom Danielson (Garmin) chased at roughly five seconds.
“It was just a crazy race all around, hard to predict and hard to control,” said van Garderen. “When Sagan went, I saw Danielson was struggling and I said, ‘let’s do this.’
“I think this was the big sleeper of all the stages. I think people were underestimating this finish and I kind of knew something was going to happen.”
Sagan and van Garderen caught Craddock with 1.5km to go.
Up ahead, Frank sprinted onto the main drag in Breckenridge. His stage win secure, Frank coasted across the line, his hand raised in celebration.
“I knew I could make it on the short steep climb, but the altitude, I could feel it,” said Frank. “Over the top I could hardly pedal; luckily I was not the only one that had this problem, and I made it to finish. I was able to hold them off to the line. It’s really hard to go super deep like I did on the last steep pitch, because of the altitude. Normally, at sea level, it takes you 20 seconds to recover. Here, it’s the different. Once you go into the red, you never recover, but I knew it was all downhill to finish, my teammate Tejay van Garderen told me if I could just make it over the top, then it’s all downhill, the position you have over the top is the position you will have at the finish.”
Morton was hunting yellow, and pushed all the way through the finish, cutting his time gap to three seconds at the line. Cutting down more than a 30-second gap on the descent, Sagan and van Garderen came through third and fourth, with Craddock fifth.
“For me, this is my first year as pro, so already this is an achievement in itself,” said Morton. “I think with the team we have, there are some stronger guys here. For myself, the goal is to have someone from our team on the podium, whichever way we can facilitate that.”
Velo editor in chief Neal Rogers contributed to this report.