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Cannondale’s Elia Viviani sprinted to victory in Colorado Springs in stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge.
But that wasn’t the day’s big story. Instead, aging breakaway artist Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) stole the spotlight with a 27-mile solo attack that lasted nearly long enough for him to survive for a win.
As the peloton waffled in their efforts to chase the 42-year-old leader, the gap grew.
After the final circuit in the Garden of the Gods, it looked like Voigt might have hung on to win a stage in his farewell race.
The gap slowly began to drop from 1:25, to down below one minute, to 20 seconds with a couple miles remaining. But as Voigt tackled the rise before the final kilometer, the peloton had him in its grasp.
The lone leader was overtaken in the last kilometer of racing, Viviani showed his sprinting class, taking his first major win since June’s Tour of Slovenia.
“Oh it’s difficult to close with Jens,” said Viviani. “He’s a strong man, he’s a legend man. It’s ever difficult to close [him down when he is away].”
“[It was] not disappointing, I was just ‘dammit it didn’t work,’” said Voigt. “I mean okay on the last climb, yeah I lost time on the last climb because they were fresh … I was just trying to hang on I had a minute on top and I thought it maybe was 50-50. … Once you start out there you might as well go to the end.”
Another big break goes early
A breakaway of 12 riders made their move only moments after the stage officially began.
Their gap grew as large as four minutes.
Along the way, Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman) reclaimed the king of the mountains (KOM) jersey, winning three intermediate climbs in the Garden of the Gods.
As for the intermediate sprints, UnitedHealthcare’s Danny Summerhill took charge. A fixture in this Pro Challenge’s breakaways, the Coloradan earned maximum points on the first and second trips through Colorado Springs. With that, he momentarily surpassed his teammate Kiel Reijnen, who led the green jersey competition at the start of the day.
Heading into the final half of the race, a combination of Garmin-Sharp and UnitedHealthcare rode at the front of the peloton to keep the gap manageable, around 2:20.
With 27 miles to go, just before the third KOM sprint, Voigt counterattacked after his teammate Laurent Didier made a move that was brought back by the chase. Jacques-Maynes followed Voigt, won the KOM sprint, then drifted back to the chasers, who were about 20 seconds behind.
Voigt pressed on alone through the punchy, curvy roads in the Garden of the Gods.
A nail-biting pursuit
With 20 miles to go, the 42-year-old had a one minute gap over the chase group. The peloton was 2:45 behind the lead.
The field caught the remainder of the chase with about 11 miles to go, at the base of the steep climb up Ridge Road to the KOM line. At that point, Voigt’s lead had fallen to 1:25.
Robbie Squire attacked the field after the KOM, with 9.5 miles to go. But he only dangled off the front, eventually being brought back by a peloton driven by Tinkoff-Saxo, Garmin-Sharp, and Cannondale.
With around five miles left, Fränk Schleck and Laurent Didier moved to the front, disrupting the chase for their teammate in the lead. The gap was 55 seconds.
BMC moved to the front in the final miles, likely protecting Tejay van Garderen from danger.
However, most of the pacemaking was left to Cannondale in the finale.
For a few minutes, in the closing miles, it looked like Voigt would pull it off.
His gap dropped, but eventually it held steady around 20 seconds
On the final rise into the right-hand bend that introduced the last kilometer of racing, the peloton had the leader in its sights.
With 750 meters left, the peloton pushed past the intrepid German, led by SmartStop.
The sprint’s impetus came from a leadout by Hincapie Sportswear Development’s Tyler Magner. Elia Viviani (Cannondale) was tight on his wheel and made a decisive jump, not to be challenged as he rode to his first win at this year’s USA Pro Challenge.
“After these three stages … it’s very difficult with the altitude,” said Viviani. “The first stage we worked all day, and we got nothing. Today, we did the perfect tactic, and in the last lap made strong work for the first victory for Cannondale.
“This is the last race for Jens, but I think he is the same as a young rider, same as a first [year] pro rider. Always he [is] the dangerous man. … Every day he go to the breakaway and attack. I [am] proud for Jens.”
Voigt was not altogether dejected on the line. He was pleased with his effort, and willing to put a positive spin on the ill-fated breakaway.
“You put it all on the line, you roll the dice, and it works or it doesn’t work,” said Voigt. “I can’t complain.
“I was trying to win it in my way. Other teams try to win it in their way. That’s just how it turns out in the end.
“I don’t think I did a mistake, or I could have done anything better. I took as many risks as I could downhill. I was working as hard as I could on the flats and the climbs.”
Martin Kohler (BMC) finished second, and Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly) sprinted to third, a surprising result from a rider who rode to the same placing in Wednesday’s mountain stage.
The GC standings remained unchanged, with van Garderen holding his lead over Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Ben Hermans (BMC).
Even the young race leader saw Voigt as the sentimental favorite. “I was pulling for [Voigt],” said van Garderen. “I was hoping he’d stay out there. But the sprinters teams, they don’t have many chances in this race, so they were pretty keen on getting him back, but I was rooting for him.”
Reijnen kept the green jersey with a fifth-place finish, nudging past teammate Summerhill on points. “I gotta be honest, I’m impressed Viviani was able to hang on,” Reijnen said. “It was kind of a grueling day. … Maybe he was a little fresher than some of us. It was always going to be tough to beat him [today].”
Friday’s stage 5 will take the riders on a 104-mile ride from Woodland Park to Breckenridge.