Viviani wins dramatic Stage 5 |

Viviani wins dramatic Stage 5

Geoff Mintz
Summit Daily News
Aspen, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Experts were having trouble predicting whether Saturday’s Stage 5 of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge from Steamboat to Breckenridge would lend itself to the sprinters or the climbers.

Tens of thousands of fans learned the answer in dramatic fashion, as 2011 Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck, a climber, was caught by the peloton in the final moments of the race on Park Avenue in Breckenridge.

Italian Elia Viviani sprinted downhill through Main Street for his second win in as many days. Jaime Castaneda and Daniel Oss rounded out the podium.

American Levi Leipheimer muscled through an attack on Swan Mountain Road by Boulder-based Team Garmin-Cervelo, which was supporting general classification contenders Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson.

Leipheimer retained the yellow jersey heading into today’s Denver finale. Baring injury or major mechanical issues, the podium for the challenge will likely be packed with Americans: Leipheimer, Vande Velde and Tejay Van Garderen, finishing 1-2-3. Americans Tom Danielson and George Hincapie will round out the top five, assuming there are no changes during the mild approach to Denver.

“You could never win a race without a team, and you could never win this race without a team as strong as RadioShack,” Leipheimer said after the race. “We were able to keep it together and let a breakaway go that had no one really close on the classification.”

Although the breakaway group was filled with non-threats to the general classification, it was nonetheless comprised of some of the sport’s top names.

Led by Dutch rider Laurens Ten Dam, the breakaway came out of the gate in ballistic fashion during the last substantial stage of the challenge. It was an elite group rounded out by Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck, Tour of Italy winner Ivan Basso, American Thomas Peterson and Javier Acevedo, who posed the only threat to Levi Leipheimer’s yellow jersey in the GC.

“We first went over Rabbit Ears Pass. I didn’t expect it to be that hard. I did it in training and it was an easy climb in training,” Schleck said. “But in the race, I don’t know about the others, but I was quite at my limit to stay up in the front group.”

Acevedo wound up getting a flat tire in the valley around Kremling, and with the American GC contenders remaining back in the peloton, the breakaway no longer put any serious pressure on Leipheimer and his team RadioShack.

But it definitely made for good TV, as Andy Schleck showed everyone he wasn’t simply on a leisurely Colorado vacation. With the ascent up Swan Mountain Road on everybody’s mind, the breakaway group of climbers (Schleck, Peterson, Basso and Dam) charged through Silverthorne and Dillon with a sizable lead on the peloton and intentions of showing the American crowd they too can get a stage win at nearly 10,000 feet.

“Final climbs suit me pretty good, but I couldn’t get more than 15 seconds (away from the break group). … I guess we gambled too long and suddenly the peloton was there. … I wish the race was 500 meters shorter,” Schleck joked.

But there’s no joke about it. If the race were 500 meters shorter, the climber Schleck would have won, which is a testament to Rabbit Ears Pass, the gradual uphill from Kremling, and Swan Mountain Road, which many experts had dismissed as not very challenging.

Garmin-Cervelo did exactly what they needed to do on the Swan Mountain climb, which was get Levi Leipheimer alone without his teammates. But it proved to be too little, too late as the 37-year-old American proved he was the strongest rider in the challenge.

“Of course we knew there would be some attacks especially on Swan Mountain. … When we crested over the [King of the Mountain], I looked over my shoulder and there was less than 10 riders. That’s a sign that it was not only a hard climb, but a hard day,” Leipheimer said.

Fifty seconds or so in front of the main group (no more than 50 meters in front of the three chasers), Andy Schleck was grimacing as he dropped the rest of the field en route to Breckenridge up Highway 9.

Schleck was subsequently caught by the chasers, and along with Basso, Ten Dam and pack underdog Peterson, he charged forward. They never got an opportunity to utilize those large chain rings surely affixed to their bikes for a downhill finish, as the peloton swept up the leaders on Park Avenue in Breckenridge less than 1K from the finish line.

“Today, I was really, really close to winning the stage,” Schleck said. “Even if I go to the sprint with (Ivan Basso) and Laurens (Ten Dam), I think I win. I’m not a sprinter, but I’m not that slow either.”

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