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Peter Sagan won stage 3 of the USA Pro Challenge on Wednesday in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Sagan (Cannondale) took his second stage of the race in a contentious bunch sprint, which saw two crashes in the final three kilometers.
Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) was second and Ryan Anderson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) was third.
Sagan’s win came after the peloton caught a solo Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) in the final 5km of the 170km leg from Breckenridge.
Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) defended his overall lead and will start stage 4 with a two-second advantage over Mathias Frank (BMC Racing). Sagan is third, at 11 seconds.
“I am very happy,” said Sagan. “Thank you to my teammates. They did very good work. I have to say sorry to Jens; he did a lot of work on the front.”
The third USA Pro Challenge continues Thursday with the 165km fourth stage, from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek. The stage features 11,627 feet of climbing, including the Cat. 1 Bachelors Gulch ascent and the finish climb from Avon to the ski area.
Voigt and company go for a long march
A day after tackling a three-climb monster to Breckenridge, the peloton set out on a much milder route to Steamboat Springs. The 170km third stage included two categorized climbs, with the Cat. 3 Swan Mountain coming 11km into the stage and the Cat. 2 Rabbit Ears Pass leading to the final run-in to the finish.
It was on the former that a five-man escape jumped away from the field. Joining Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) in the group were Cascade Classic winner Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly-Kenda), Davide Villella (Cannondale), Joshua Edmondson (Sky), and Tyler Wren, who was defending Jamis-Hagens Berman teammate Matthew Cooke’s lead in the mountains classification.
The breakaway took a maximum advantage of 4:00 before hitting the gradual, 40km ascent to the foot of the 8km Rabbit Ears Pass climb. The gap pushed out to 5:10 with 56km to go and as soon as it began to drop, Voigt launched a long-range attack. The German, a solo winner of stage 4 in the 2012 Pro Challenge, left his companions behind, pushing out to a lead of 1:15 with 45km to go.
“I attacked because I saw the group falling apart, due to different interests,” said Voigt. “The Cannondale rider stopped pulling. If you have five riders and one stops, it creates an imbalance, it doesn’t work, it’s no longer a fellowship, it’s then five individuals wanting to win, so an attack was the best defense.”
Cannondale put three riders into the chase with Garmin and began cutting into the four chasers’ advantage. Voigt, meanwhile, pushed his lead with 43km to go to two minutes on Edmondson, who attacked from the chase. Villella soon went back to the bunch to help in the pursuit for stage 1 winner Peter Sagan.
With 37km to go, seven Cannondale riders led the peloton, 3:45 behind Voigt. Edmondson was 2:30 behind, with the remainder of the breakaway at 2:50.
Voigt topped out on the east summit of the final climb with a lead of 3:35 and pushed on toward the west summit.
Back in the peloton, Cooke pushed his way to the front and led the field through the KOM line for fifth.
“Jens was away by himself. He’s an animal,” said Cooke. “There was group behind him. We knew points went seven deep, so the team helped me to the right spot, and I sprinted to get the rest of the points. Pretty cut and dry, but still hard.”
After the ensuing reshuffle at the front, Argos-Shimano, Bissell, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, and RadioShack each put riders into the rotation to help Cannondale. Edmondson was soon back in the bunch, leaving Voigt as the only surviving escapee.
The lone German leader rolled over the top of the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass and began the descent to the valley floor with a lead of 2:25.
The work back in the peloton cut into Voigt’s lead and, with Sagan coming through at the front, the gap fell to 2:15 with 17km to go. With 13km to go, the gap was 1:45. With 10km, it was down to 1:15.
The final run-in for a sprint in Steamboat Springs
The 10 remaining kilometers to the line were mostly flat and wide open. Voigt faced long odds to hold on for victory.
Three Optum riders rotated in a line with a single each from Cannondale, Argos, and Colombia. The gap was down to 1:00 with 7km to go, and 45 seconds with 6km to go.
Still, Voigt pushed on, his shoulders wagging across his handlebars. With 4km to go, his lead was down to 20 seconds. Asked after the race if he believed he could survive to the finish, Voigt said, “All the time. … Of course I believed, otherwise it’s not worth it.”
With 3km to go, Argos led the peloton past its prey, and the bunch was all together for the final run-in to the line — until a large crash ripped through the group.
George Bennett (RadioShack), Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare), Alex Candelario, Jesse Anthony, and Mike Friedman (Optum) all went down. Friedman lay on the ground for minutes following the pileup, but finished the stage, his jersey torn and hanging off of him. Reijnen finished, but was transported to a local hospital, according to UnitedHealthcare staff.
“I was angry, disappointed,” said Voigt. “I thought it would work out today, and it didn’t, and I was a little bit mad with the world in general. Then I heard a crash happened, so it could have been worse. Being caught is better than being in a crash. At least I gave it a go. I realized, with 5-6km to go, and the gap was under a minute, I did a quick calculation, in the headwind, figured this might be a little too short today. I saw it coming, but I’m still disappointed.”
After a moment of confusion, BMC Racing took command at the front with five riders. Argos fought for position, but with 500 meters to go, Optum crashed the front. Anderson opened the sprint to the right, but Sagan burst up the left side of the road, vaulting off Greg Van Avermaet’s (BMC Racing) wheel and narrowly holding on for victory over Mezgec.
Anderson came through third.
Editor in chief Neal Rogers contributed to this report.