Van Garderen rules USA Pro Challenge
DENVER — Three, two, one.
American Tejay van Garderen, who recently moved with his family to Aspen, won the USA Pro Challenge on Sunday, finishing safely in the main peloton to complete a sweep of the two biggest races in the United States.
Van Garderen, the 25-year-old BMC rider who grew up in Montana, led the seven-stage race for the final four days, finishing 1 minute, 30 seconds ahead of Swiss teammate Mathias Frank.
The Tour of California winner in May, van Garderen was fifth last year in the Tour de France, then slipped to 45th this year.
Van Garderen, who moved to Fort Collins for his senior year in high school (Rocky Mountain), sealed his victory with a record-setting performance in the Vail Time Trial.
Then, he rode in front of his former high school pals on the stage that finished in downtown Fort Collins on Saturday.
On Sunday, van Garderen celebrated his second overall victory with wife Jessica Phillips, an Aspen native and former pro bike racer.
Boulder’s Tom Danielson, of the Colorado-based Garmin-Sharp team, was third overall in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge, 1:42 behind van Garderen.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, who came to Aspen two weeks early for altitude training, won Sunday’s race with his fourth sprint victory of the week.
Sagan completed the eight-lap, 72.4-mile circuit race in 2:27:15.
Canada’s Ryan Anderson, of Optum-Kelly Benefit, was second, a bike-length behind. Alessandro Bazzana, of UnitedHealthcare, was third.
Van Garderen, who finished third in USA Pro Challenge in 2011 and second last year, went to the front of the field briefly in the final half-mile to avoid potential crashes.
Sagan surged to the front in the final 200 yards and eased at the line with his 19th win of the season. Sagan won the opening stage, the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race. He also won the stages that finished in Steamboat Springs and Fort Collins.
“July is definitely the most important month in bike racing,” said van Garderen, who developed his early career while riding throughout the Rocky Mountains. “I had an incredible time here in Colorado. Being able to race on the roads I used to train on in high school, that was a dream. I was hearing my name called out so many times, it was unbelievable. So this is a special race for me.”
Despite his two titles this year, van Garderen stressed his desire to fare well in the Tour de France.
“This doesn’t make up for a poor July,” said van Garderen, who the past two years rode in the Tour de France in support of teammate Cadel Evans, of Australia, the 2011 race winner. “I’m still hungry for the Tour. I still see myself as a Grand Tour rider, and I want to come back to the Tour in the future and fight for a high GC and hopefully a couple of years down the line even wear the yellow jersey there.”
Denmark’s Christopher Juul Jensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Britain’s Joshua Edmondson (Sky) crashed approaching the final lap toward the back of the field. Jensen finished the race, but Edmondson withdrew.
Van Garderen became the race’s third leader with a runner-up mountaintop finish in the fourth stage, the most difficult of the race.
He won the time trial fifth stage by 4 seconds to extend his lead, then maintained it for the final two days.
Reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome, of Britain, who suffered in the altitude since the opening stage, withdrew early in the final stage. He cited chest tightness and breathing problems.
Defending race titlist Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) finished 21st overall after a main pack finish.
The race’s third edition began Aug. 19 in Aspen with 16 teams and 128 riders. The 593-mile event ended with 108 riders after 20 cyclists withdrew following injuries or illness.
Aspen native Alex Hagman, riding for the domestic Jelly Belly team, finished 39th overall Sunday. He was 20:18 back of van Garderen.
Hagman was one spot behind Sagan, who was 19:46 back but the winner of four the seven stages in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.