ASPEN, Colo. (Bicycling.com): Before the start of today's queen stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, from Gunnison to Aspen, everyone talked about the much-feared climbs of the Cottonwood and Independence passes. And rightly so. Each mountain took the riders to over 12,000 feet above sea level, and both were sure to put the world's best cyclists under pressure in the thin air.
But under wet conditions late on Wednesday's Stage 2 the biggest factor in the 130-mile-long ride proved to be the final descent, down Independence Pass, where a small but select group of riders—George Hincapie (BMC), Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo), and Eduard Beltran (UNE-EPM)—eventually broke clear from what was left of the main field. They gained 45 seconds on a chase group that included Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and Cadel Evans (BMC), among other favorites.
Down in Aspen—where it had continued to rain off and on since mid-afternoon—after five and half hours of racing, Hincapie launched a well-timed sprint to steal stage glory from Van Garderen, who had to settle for second place on the day but took the overall race lead from Leipheimer. It was Hincapie's first victory for BMC and his first since winning a third U.S. national road title in 2009.
"It has been awhile," Hincapie said. "We had four guys at the top of the climb to help Cadel (Evans) come back, so I thought I might as well take a chance. It worked out perfectly." He moved into second overall, 16 seconds behind the 23-year-old Van Garderen.
How the stage unfolded
The stage began somewhat tentatively, as a nasty crash caught up several riders and sent Team Type 1’s Daniele Callegarin to the hospital with suspected head injuries and two broken hands. In addition, persistent headwinds and crosswinds blunted the day’s big breakaway of six riders led by Danny Pate (HTC-Highroad) and Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly).
It wasn’t until Independence, with storm clouds looming, that things really heated up. With the break caught, first up on the attack was EPM-UNE’s Rafael Infantino, then Van Garderen himself countered amid huge crowds that rivaled that of a Tour de France summit.
“I looked around and everyone was suffering but it was still a big group,” Van Garderen said. “I didn’t want that big of a group going into that crazy of a descent. So I attacked to get the strongest riders away.”
Van Garderen was surprised when things regrouped slightly on the downhill. But then the rain started falling and he knew he had an advantage. “There’s no big summit finish or day here that’s going to really separate guys a lot on time, so you have to take time where you can,” he said. “And Levi, in all due respect, he is not the strongest descender; sometimes he loses his nerve a bit and that’s one of my strong suits.
"I can, uh, have balls. So I just went for it and when I saw we had a gap I just drove it.”
MOVE OF THE DAY: Beltran attacks, Danielson reacts after top of Independence. (Robertson/VeloDramatic)
'Gorgeous George' takes race's biggest stage
Hincapie has something of a knack for winning the biggest prize in a stage race, if not the overall itself. In 2005, he won the biggest climbing stage to Pla d’Adet at that year’s Tour de France. In 2008, he took a stunning finish in Pasadena at the Tour of California after a rainy descent with a breakaway. And at the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the BMC veteran stuck with the best climbers on Independence Pass, then ripped a white-knuckle descent in cold rain to win out of a small group in downtown Aspen.
When rain split the leaders and Hincapie found himself in a group with overall contenders Van Garderen and Danielson, he sensed a stage win was possible. “Once I saw those guys come across I knew they were going for GC, so I was able to sit back the last few kilometers and I knew I had a great shot,” he said. “Tejay got a gap coming out of the last corner and I had to sprint around Tom but once I got him I knew I was going to win.”
Said Leipheimer on his Twitter: "Congrats to (Hincapie) for the stage win and ripping that descent. I was frozen, jaw clenched shut, and shivering uncontrollably. Gnarly stuff."
Van Garderen didn’t get the win but he got potentially something more. “I spend a lot of time here in Aspen and I couldn’t pick a better day to take the jersey,” he said. The 23-year-old is ideally suited to defend his lead in Thursday’s uphill time trial at Vail. And Hincapie, while not known as a big climber, said he wouldn’t exactly roll over.
“Tejay’s riding great and he’s motivated; he’ll be hard to beat,” said Hincapie. “I’ll try to stay as high (on GC) as possible. I’ve heard the TT is fairly straightforward, so I won’t just throw in the towel.”
Stage 2 results
1 HINCAPIE George BMC USA B:10" 00"
2 VAN GARDEREN Tejay THR USA B:06" ' '
3 DANIELSON Tom GRM USA B:04" ' '
4 BELTRAN SUAREZ Eduard EPM COL ' '
5 ACEVEDO CALLE Janier GOB COL ' '
6 PIRES Bruno LEO POR ' '
7 EVANS Cadel BMC AUS 45"
8 EUSER Lucas CSM USA ' '
9 LEIPHEIMER Levi RSH USA ' '
10 LOUDER Jeffry BMC USA ' '
11 HENAO MONTOYA Sergio GOB COL ' '
12 VANDEVELDE Christian GRM USA ' '
13 SEVILLA RIBIERO Oscar GOB ESP ' '
14 GESINK Robert RAB NED ' '
15 ROVNY Ivan RSH RUS ' '
16 CLEMENT Stef RAB NED ' '
17 CASTANEDA Jaime EPM COL ' '
18 BALDWIN Christopher BPC USA ' '
19 SCHLECK Frank LEO LUX ' '
20 INFANTINO ABREU Rafael EPM COL ' '
21 SUAREZ Juan Pablo EPM COL ' '
22 STETINA Peter GRM USA ' '
23 SUTHERLAND Rory UHC AUS ' '
24 WEENING Pieter RAB NED ' '
25 BASSO Ivan LIQ ITA 52"
Overall standings after Stage 2
1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay THR USA 10h04'08" 00"
2 HINCAPIE George BMC USA 10h04'24" 16"
3 DANIELSON Tom GRM USA 10h04'30" 22"
4 LEIPHEIMER Levi RSH USA 10h04'42" 34"
5 VANDEVELDE Christian GRM USA 10h04'53" 45"
6 EVANS Cadel BMC AUS 10h04'59" 51"
7 ACEVEDO CALLE Janier GOB COL 10h05'00" 52"
8 GESINK Robert RAB NED 10h05'12" 01'04"
9 PIRES Bruno LEO POR 10h05'16" 01'08"
10 SUTHERLAND Rory UHC AUS 10h05'17" 01'09"
11 LOUDER Jeffry BMC USA 10h05'23" 01'15"
12 SCHLECK Frank LEO LUX 10h05'24" 01'16"
13 SEVILLA RIBIERO Oscar GOB ESP 10h05'26" 01'18"
14 HENAO MONTOYA Sergio GOB COL 10h05'27" 01'19"
15 ROVNY Ivan RSH RUS 10h05'34" 01'26"
16 BELTRAN SUAREZ Eduard EPM COL 10h05'41" 01'33"
17 CLEMENT Stef RAB NED 10h05'44" 01'36"
18 SUAREZ Juan Pablo EPM COL 10h05'45" 01'37"
19 STETINA Peter GRM USA 10h05'50" 01'42"
20 INFANTINO ABREU Rafael EPM COL 10h05'52" 01'44"
21 BALDWIN Christopher BPC USA 10h05'53" 01'45"
22 EUSER Lucas CSM USA 10h06'05" 01'57"
23 CASTANEDA Jaime EPM COL 10h06'06" 01'58"
24 BOOKWALTER Brent BMC USA 10h07'05" 02'57"
25 BAEZ Giovany EPM COL 10h07'34" 03'26"
Original: Bicycling Magazine