Aspen’s Tejay van Garderen is making a habit of celebrating in yellow in downtown Denver.
Van Garderen won the USA Pro Challenge for the second consecutive time Sunday, capping a week-long bicycle race across Colorado with a role reversal in the final stage that started in Boulder and ended in Denver.
The leader of the BMC team, the 26-year-old van Garderen served as the lead-out man for BMC’s Michael Schar in the closing bunch sprint in downtown Denver, ending an action-packed 78-mile stage that included a quick climb up Lookout Mountain.
Schar, the Swiss rider who had led the powerful BMC team all week as van Garderen defended his 2013 title, finished on the stage podium in third place Sunday.
The winner and the runner-up in the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge reversed their roles from the first finishing sprint on Aug. 18 in downtown Aspen.
Alex Howes, of Garmin Sharp, who lost by mere inches to training partner and fellow Boulder resident Keil Reijnen, of UnitedHealthcare, in the duel down Aspen’s Main Street, managed to beat Reijnen by an equally close margin Sunday afternoon at the finish line in downtown Denver.
The final stage of the fourth annual USA Pro Challenge included two sections through big crowds in Golden, where race winner Howes went to high school.
“This was incredible,” van Garderen said in an interview on NBC television after finishing sixth in Sunday’s sprint. “The crowds were huge at the start in Boulder, and they kept getting bigger.”
Van Garderen credited his BMC teammates for their attentive riding in the 550-mile, seven-stage race that opened with the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race.
“The boys showed a lot of poise,” said van Garderen, who won the USA Pro Challenge by 1 minute, 32 seconds over runner-up Tommy Danielson, of the Colorado-based Garmin Sharp team. Van Garderen’s total riding time was 20 hours, 5 minutes, 42 seconds.
Upstart Serghei Tvetcov, of the smaller Jelly Belly domestic cycling team, finished third overall, 1:49 behind van Garderen. Tvetcov was fourth in Sunday’s sprint, with Poland’s Rafal Majka, a Tinkoff-Saxo rider, fifth. Majka, who won two stages of the Tour de France, finished fourth overall in his first appearance in the Colorado stage race.
“I may have made it look easy. But it wasn’t,” van Garderen said. “It was a hard-fought victory.”
Van Garderen took control of the 2014 race Wednesday on the crucial Queen Stage, which took the cyclists from Gunnison over Monarch Pass, down to Salida and back up the pass for a finish at Monarch Mountain — a 96-mile stage that van Garderen won in dramatic fashion as he and Majka pulled away from everyone on the final climbs.
Two days later, van Garderen extended his overall lead with a dominating victory and record-setting time in the rain-soaked Vail Time Trial.
His BMC team, which won the team title in the 2014 USA Pro Challenge, included Belgium’s Ben Hermans, who finished ninth overall after spending time among the race leaders early in the week.
The BMC squad also featured Schar, Americans Peter Stetina and Brent Bookwalter, Belgium’s Yannick Eijssen, Switzerland’s Martin Kohler and Germany’s Rick Zabel. They won the team title for the second consecutive year.
Aspen High School graduate Keegan Swirbul, a first-year pro with the Bissell Development Team, successfully completed the 2014 USA Pro Challenge on Sunday, finishing 73rd overall among the 115 finishers. A total of 128 cyclists started the race in Aspen.
Sunday’s final stage also marked the final professional race for 17-year pro Jens Voigt, the popular German cyclist for Trek Factory Racing.
He closed his career, as expected, with a strong showing in a breakaway that took off before the cyclists got out of the Boulder city limits.
Voigt was part of a bigger break that eventually became a smaller break and eventually a Voigt solo breakaway.
His crowd-pleasing attempt at a final stage victory ended on the final lap in Denver, less than 5 miles from the finish.
“I gave it all ... one more time,” Voigt told NBC after the last race of a career that included 17 appearances in the Tour de France. “I was trying to be a professional until the last minute on the bike.”