Peter Sagan spent his day buried in the peloton, saving up his speed for the final push to the finish, emerging out of a chaotic field of sprinters to take the win for Stage Three of the USA Pro Challenge.
"I'm very happy about it and I want to thank all my teammates because they did great work," Sagan said, according to a press release from the USA Pro Challenge. "I want to say sorry to Jens because he was at the front, but when he dropped all the riders from the breakaway there was only one way to win the stage."
The stage presented riders with a 105.9 mile course from Breckenridge to Steamboat, climbing Swan Mountain and Rabbit Ears Pass and with opportunities for sprints through Silverthorne and Kremmling.
Team Jamis came to support Matt Cooke — who was recruited to the team to support Janier Alexis Calle Acevedo but has come forward as a competitor in his right — on the first King of the Mountains challenge on Swan Mountain. Between Cooke’s position there and on Rabbit Ears, he’s now got 38 points in the King of the Mountains competition, and a 13 point lead on the second place rider in that competition, his Jamis teammate, Tyler Wren.
A kilometer out from that summit, Jens Voight (Radioshack Leopard) was setting the pace at the front of a breakaway before Davide Villella (Cannondale) charged solo over that King of the Mountain, Cooke behind him and Voight in third, followed by Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly) and Wren.
After the climb, a group formed at the front with Villella, Voight, Wren, Tvetcov and Joshua Edmonson (Sky). That group opened up a multi-minute lead on the field that held through the sprints in Silverthorne (taken by Tvetcov, Voight and Wren) and Kremmling (Villella, Tvetcov and Voight — just maintaining their breakaway without a sprint).
As the breakaway group rounded the Heeney Dam, the peloton, 3:40 behind them, came into view on the other side of the lake.
Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp), who wore the leader’s jersey this stage, rode surrounded by his Garmin teammates near the front, along with BMC riders, who have Tejay Van Garderen, who would finish the stage standing fourth overall, behind yesterday’s stage winner Matthias Frank (also BMC), and Sagan.
The five leaders continued cooperating as they approached the incline for Rabbit Ears King of the Mountains, pulling the gap on the field to over five minutes, when Voight started making repeated jumps for a breakaway.
He looked for someone to go with him, but no one seemed to have the legs, so he pulled a little away, came back, then tucked his head and jabbed out on his own again with only the company of his personal mantra written on the top of his bike: Shut up legs. The breakaway group tried to snag him back, and failed. Voight opened up a 45-second lead on the breakaway group, then had 2 minutes as he approached Rabbit Ears. His only company on the rollercoaster summit of Rabbit Ears pass was a guy with antlers on his helmet running alongside him.
"I had it in mind this morning. I thought, 'I feel like I'm up for this today,'" Voight said in the press conference after the race. "There's no reason for me to hold back and sometimes it's best to surprise the competition."
Cooke came to the front for the King of the Mountains to snag some points to hang on to the jersey, taking 5th place on that class 2 summit. In the press conference after the race, Cooke said his teammates really helped him get into the right position to sprint toward snagging those points.
"I'd really like to keep this going and pull the whole thing off," he said. "It would be a big deal for someone like me and the Jamis-Hagens Berman team."
Voight crouched into the descent toward Steamboat Springs while the peloton, with Sagan pace-setting at the front of the field, steadily closed the distance.
The final kilometers saw Voight’s lead dropping, though he still had a 40-second lead (about 500 yards) 5 kilometers from the finish, while the sprinters shuffled to the front of the peloton. He was caught just 3 km from the finish line after having broken away 7 miles from the starting line, but his efforts earned him the Most Courageous Rider jersey.
"I was disappointed and I was like 'damnit.' I was just a little bit mad with the world in general," Voight said, in a press release from race organizers. "I gave it a go and I'm happy to see that. I saw it coming a little bit, but I was still disappointed."
Team Sky’s Joe Dombrowski, the 2012 best young rider winner, was taken out on medical leave, changing the Sky strategy from supporting the promising young cyclist (Tour de France winner Chris Froome was ferrying water to him through Stage Two) to going for individual team victories.
A 10-cyclist crash at the end of the day left Michael Friedman (Optum) pedaling to the finish alongside the medical car, his jersey shredded and half his back, and a fair patch of road rash, visible. Friedman, a national champion and Olympian, told Boulder Weekly just last week he’s been putting some long thought into what his future as a cyclist might be. Hoping it includes signing in for the race tomorrow morning.