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Seven shades of redemption sum up the 2012 USA Pro Challenge

August 31, 2012

If there’s one thing that characterized last week’s USA Pro Challenge, it’s sweet redemption.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) both raised their arms overhead in road race victory salutes for the first time in three and six years respectively.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) after winning the Mount Crested Butte uphill finish on Stage 2

After his win on Stage 2, van Garderen noted he’d counted eight second places up to that point. His first pro win since earlier Rabobank development team years occurred last year at the time trial in the Tour of Utah. The win at Mount Crested Butte seemed more special because, “Since it [Utah] was a TT I didn’t get to put my hands in the air,” he said at the post-race press conference.

Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) won the overall Most Aggressive Rider jersey and shared the podium with son Stevie

Danielson, who delighted in the opening of the race in Durango as much as or even more than a child ripping a bow off his first bike, radiated joy after winning Stage 3 into Aspen. He asked commentator Bob Roll for a kiss during an interview before the podium ceremonies and pulled Roll’s face to his own before Roll could respond. Danielson mentioned later that day that he hadn’t won a “race proper” since 2005 or 2006; he wasn’t counting his TT win at the Vuelta Ciclista a Burgos in 2009 or the Bob Cook Memorial Hill Climb in the same year.

Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) takes first on Stage 1 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge

Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) returned to stage-racing in the U.S. for the first time since 2009 after a frustrating Tour de France. During the USA Pro Challenge he described his crash-ridden experience at the TDF as “just there taking up space until Paris.” He came close in Utah but lost sprints to Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare) and Michael Matthews (Rabobank).

More than a year after his TDF July 4th win Tyler lifted his arms overhead on Stage 1 in Telluride, fists clenched. He won again four days later in Colorado Springs and finished the race in the green Sprint jersey.

Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) celebrates his Stage 6 victory on Flagstaff with his son

After five years of taking serious aim at the Tour of California and returning home with decent results but no victories, Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) demonstrated this year he can win in the biggest races in the U.S. against impressive World Tour team line-ups.

Sutherland raced across the finish line on Flagstaff twenty seconds ahead of the next placed rider for Stage 6; he rolled about twenty feet and sat on the ground where journalists and videographers mobbed him.

Sutherland showed as one of the strongest riders in the combined August races of Utah and Colorado this year, winning a stage at each.

Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) talks to the media immediately after winning at Beaver Creek

Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) may have surprised even himself when he pulled off a solo win at age 40 into Beaver Creek on Stage 4. Just three months earlier in California he told team staff to remember well what he looked like standing on the podium after his second place in the Bakersfield time trial, because he expected it would be his last time on a podium ever in his career.

Most likely only Voigt harbored that pessimistic outlook. Between most aggressive and mountains jerseys, a stage win, and the overall team classification prize, Voigt stood proudly five times on Colorado podiums.

Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team) greets the crowd in Denver as he steps onto the podium after winning the USA Pro Challenge time trial

In 2011 Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team) missed the USA Pro Challenge in exchange for a shot at qualifying for the Olympic team; if he had placed at least third in the TT at the Vuelta a Espana last year he would have secured an automatic qualification to ride the TT for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. While he undoubtedly gave his all in Spain, his heart likely remained in his home state of Colorado.

Phinney couldn’t raise his hands high as he crossed the USA Pro Challenge TT finish line in Denver with what would remain the best time. He enjoyed that feeling as he stood above number one on the stage, reaching a height of nearly seven feet from toes to fingertips.

As Phinney rose from the press conference table on Sunday afternoon after all the questions had been answered, he picked up the placard stamped with his name and the USA Pro Challenge logo and tucked it under his arm.

Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp), overall winner of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge

The color yellow has teased Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) during the past few weeks. It slipped from his grasp in Utah when he lost it on Snowbird to Johan Tschopp (BMC Racing Team) and in Colorado to van Garderen on the punchy uphill to Beaver Creek. Vande Velde, who according to team manager Jonathan Vaughters entered the TT start house on Sunday having hit his stride this year, had apparently decided nothing would stand between him and winning the overall in Colorado.

One videographer said Vande Velde had “cursed a blue streak” under his breath during the countdown in the TT start house. Vande Velde solidly beat van Garderen and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) in the race against the clock, as well as – if the videographer heard correctly, any demons that had haunted him since the team’s disheartening 2012 Tour de France.

At the final 2012 USA Pro Challenge press conference, the riders named some favorite foods as they posed: Chipotle, wood-fired pizza, and cheeseburgers among others

Final 2012 USA Pro Challenge GC top 10. (2012 USA Pro Challenge full GC here).

1          Vande Velde, Christian (GRS)      00″

2          van Garderen, Tejay (BMC)          21″

3          Leipheimer, Levi (OPQ)                24″

4          Kloden, Andreas (RNT)              1’08”

5          Brajkovic, Janez (AST)               1’14”

6          Fuglsang, Jakob (RNT)              1’24”

7          Danielson, Tom (GRS)               1’28”

8          Busche, Matthew (RNT)             1’32”

9          Stetina, Peter (GRS)                  1’39”

10        Dombrowski, Joseph (BLS)       1’40”

  1. Debamundo permalink

    Been enjoying your blog posts about the race. Love the last photo from the press conference, with Tom Danielson laughing. He completely stole my heart last week (in a strictly platonic way). I’ve always liked him, but now I’m a HUGE Tommy D fan. He’s that perfect mix of super friendly and sweet off the bike and a tenacious fighter on the bike.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful note. I so wish I could remember what cracked him up. It might have been the Chipotle reference by Phinney.

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