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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (VN) — BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen was all smiles in Breckenridge on Tuesday at the finish line of the second stage of the USA Pro Challenge.
The young American rider, who has twice finished on the GC podium at the Pro Challenge but has not taken top honors, struck first in the battle for the overall victory, taking significant time out of his GC rivals.
Adding icing on the cake, BMC’s Mathias Frank won the stage, attacking breakaway companions Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) and Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) on the steep pitches of Moonstone Road and over Boreas Pass to solo across the line.
Morton, who finished three seconds behind Frank, assumed the race lead from Peter Sagan (Cannondale), but in the battle between the big GC favorites, van Garderen was the clear winner. The BMC rider now leads Tom Danielson (Garmin) by 18 seconds, Darwin Atapuma (Colombia) by 24 seconds, Rory Sutherland (Saxo-Tinkoff) by 30 seconds, and Joe Dombrowski (Sky) by 53 seconds.
Behind Frank’s winning move, van Garderen jumped on Sagan’s wheel at the top of Boreas Pass as the Slovakian attempted to protect his race lead. The net result was a significant gap over Danielson, who could not match the pace on the 15-percent slopes of the Cat. 3 climb.
“It was a crazy race all around,” van Garderen said. “It was hard to predict, and hard to control. Mathias did a good job of getting up there, which kept us from having to do any work. When Sagan went, I saw Tom Danielson struggling, so I said, ‘let’s do this.’”
Asked if, after two stages, he could make any determinations about the race’s GC contenders, van Garderen pointed to Frank as one of the top favorites.
“To be honest, Mathias might even take this thing,” van Garderen said.
Frank, 26, has finished in the top five overall this year at the Amgen Tour of California as well as the Tour de Suisse, and now sits two seconds behind Morton.
The Swiss rider said his condition coming into Colorado was excellent, but added that he’s lacking in the critical acclimatization to high altitude necessary to win the Pro Challenge.
“It’s hard to tell,” Frank said when asked if he could win this USA Pro Challenge. “I just came here 10 days ago. I think to win here, it’s most important to be acclimatized.
“I am in really good shape, it’s been a good summer, the shape is super, but to win is more than just shape, it’s acclimatization. I am getting better, day by day, and after 10 days I am already good, but I think I need more time. You never know what will happen; today was one of the strangest races I have ever seen. But last year it was the same — the altitude changes everything. This is not the normal cycling we know. It’s something different. Anything can happen in this race.”
And while it’s still a long way to Denver, van Garderen now sits in a commanding lead, holding enough of an advantage to have won one Pro Challenge, and nearly won another. Last year’s race was decided by 21 seconds; the 2011 edition was decided by just 11 seconds.
Of the rest of the GC riders, van Garderen pointed to Danielson as his biggest threat.
“Garmin is strong, and Danielson is looking the strongest of the Garmin guys,” he said. “He’s the main competitor, I think.”
As for how he had felt during two days of racing, van Garderen just smiled, adding, “I feel good.”