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Saxo plays a pair of GC cards in Colorado with Sutherland, Rogers

Rory Sutherland and Michael Rogers are the squad's top two riders at the week-long race

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ASPEN, Colo. (VN) — Who is Saxo-Tinkoff’s GC leader at the USA Pro Challenge — Rory Sutherland or Michael Rogers?

Depends on whom you ask.

Sutherland, the top rider in the U.S. on several occasions between 2007 and 2012, won the queen stage of last year’s Pro Challenge, on Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, while riding for UnitedHealthcare.

His 2013 season — his first racing on a European team since 2005 — has been steady, but unremarkable; he finished the Giro d’Italia in May, and his top result was sixth, at Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta, in April. On Monday in Aspen, Sutherland finished seventh on the stage, in the same time as stage winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

Rogers is coming off a strong showing at the Tour de France. Riding in support of Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger, the Australian veteran hovered inside the top 10 in the race for the general classification until the final week before finishing 16th overall. He’s tasted GC victory in the U.S. before, winning the 2010 Amgen Tour of California while riding for HTC-Highroad. Rogers finished 20th on the stage in Aspen on Monday, five seconds behind Sagan — and 16 others, including Sutherland.

Prior to stage 1, Rogers downplayed his own GC chances.

“I took pretty much two weeks off after the Tour and just did a bit of light training before coming here,” Rogers told VeloNews, when asked whether he, or Sutherland, would be the team’s protected GC rider. “I don’t have really high expectations. I’m using this as a bit of base work for the next part of the season.”

However, Sutherland said it was too soon to say which Australian rider might prove best as the week develops.

“I think that’s always a bit of a copout, from my friend Michael,” Sutherland said. “It’s quite easy to not take on the pressure, and that’s what I choose to do as well. Michael has come off a good Tour de France, and he’s always dependable and strong. We decided that if I’m better, we go for me, and if he’s better, we go for him, and luckily, we’re good friends.”

As always, the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains will play a pivotal role in determining performance. Tuesday’s stage 2 will reach the highest point of the race when it crests Independence Pass. At an elevation of 12,096 feet (3,687m), it’s the highest point of any professional cycling race.

Sutherland said that Monday’s short and fast stage 1 was an eye-opener for every rider in the peloton, even those who have been training or racing at altitude during the past month.

“I’ve been training at altitude for the last five weeks now, and I never saw heart rates like I saw today,” Sutherland said. “The first day is always a big question mark. How are you doing? How is everyone else doing? Are you prepared for this? So far, so good.”

As for Rogers, who has never raced in Colorado, he said he’d take a wait-and-see approach on how the altitude will affect him.

“Everyone works a little differently at altitude. It’s so high here, no one really knows how it’s going to work,” Rogers said. “We’ll see.”