Aspen to Breckenridge

The second stage of this year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge was very much a tour into the unknown. The 203km (126mi) Aspen to Breckenridge route is new to the race and when combined with the high altitude, nobody knew how the race would play out. The first climb, up Independence Pass starting at the edge of Aspen, is a long, hard slog. Could a break go and establish a big gap? Would pressure in the field shred it early?

Race leader Peter Sagan of Cannondale Pro Cycling played down his chances before the stage start. Yes, he had been training at altitude the past two weeks, but he wasn't sure if he had the form to contend for the stage win—and stay in the race for the overall.

As expected, there were attacks from the moment the flag was dropped at kilometer zero. Breaks formed, were chased down, and new attacks went. It took a good ways up Independence for a group of three to establish a gap. In the group was King of the Mountain (KoM) leader Matt Cooke of Jamis/Hagens-Berman looking to defend his jersey for at least another day. At the top of the first pass, he came across second, but with enough points to secure the jersey through tomorrow.

But there was another 170km (106mi) remaining. That was a long way for three riders to hold off the pack. Two riders attacked the peloton to cross to the three leaders. But no sooner had they arrived at the front with 75km (47mi) to go did the peloton, led by Cannondale, chase all five down.

Cannondale took a breather and fourteen riders shot off the front. In there for the green team was Davide Villella. But the combination of teams represented at the front meant that there were few teams interested in chasing the break. The fourteen quickly rolled out a lead of 3:30 in just 25km (15mi).

The gap meant that Saxo-Tinkoff Bank was called into action for their leaders. They steadily ate up the break's lead. With the gap dropping on Hoosier Pass to just over a minute, Garmin's Lachlan Morton decided the moment was nigh. He attacked, quickly gaining 30 seconds and putting most of the break in trouble. He soloed over the top of Hoosier, with two chasers at fifteen seconds, and the rapidly thinning pack at 1:15.

On the descent, Morton was caught by Lawson Craddock of Bontrager and Mathias Frank of BMC. The three rode together, knowing they needed each other for as long as possible. The gap started to open up again, up to 2:10.

Through Breckenridge for the first time and en route to the final climb of the day, the short, steep Boreas Pass, the gap dropped to 1:10. On the pass, Frank attacked with a little over a kilometer to the summit, dropping Craddock and gapping Morton. Once the summit is reached, it's all downhill to the finish, and even a small gap would be hard to bridge.

Just as Frank reached the summit, Sagan made his move. There was a 40-second gap, but Sagan was intent on erasing the entire deficit. Sagan was fourth over the summit, the gap was down to 30 seconds, and he kept going. BMC's Tejay Van Garderen stuck to his wheel, defending for his teammate up the road. The twosome rocketed past a fading Craddock but were running out of road.

Into town, Frank still had a few second lead on Morton as the two fanned their pedals in desperation. Frank sat up to give a victory salute meters from the line. The race was his. But in the overall, the salute probably cost him. He started the day five seconds behind Morton; the gap to Morton at the finish was three seconds. Morton took the lead over Frank by two seconds.

Eleven seconds after Morton crossed the line; Sagan sprinted across, beating Van Garderen. Sagan took third on the day, dropping him to third overall, eleven seconds behind Morton.

While he lost the overall lead and the lead in the best young rider competition, he retained the lead in the points competition. "Finishing third by just a few seconds doesn't make me happy, but I can't be too disappointed,” said Sagan. “Frank had a great ride and I tried to play my cards right in the finale. I didn't know what to expect today because the stage, on paper, was hard. I did my race without pushing too deeply. Just sat in the peloton. The feeling was good and, on the final climb, I decided to try something. Maybe tomorrow could be another good day."

If Peter Sagan was able to ride to third place on this hard stage, Cannondale Pro Cycling should fancy his chances in stage three. The 170km (106mi) ride from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs has much less climbing, 5,865' in total, and the top of the last climb, Rabbit Ears, is almost 26km (16mi) from the finish line, which is at the bottom of a long descent. If Sagan is close to the lead at the top of Rabbit Ears, his descending skills and sprinting prowess could give him another stage win.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge 2013
Stage 2: Aspen to Breckenridge

Stage Results
1. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team       in 5:05:19  
2. Lachlan David Morton (Aus) Garmin-Sharp    at 0:00:03  
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling  0:00:14  
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team same time     
5. Lawson Craddock (USA) Bontrager   0:00:21  

Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
8.Damiano Caruso (Ita)      0:00:44 
49. Davide Villella (Ita)      0:02:40
56. Edward King (USA)      0:06:02
62. Juraj Sagan (Svk)      0:10:33
75. Nariyuki Masuda (Jpn)     0:11:12
101. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita)    0:15:05 
114. Fabio Sabatini (Ita)      0:19:16

General Classification
1. Lachlan David Morton (Aus) Garmin-Sharp  7:31:22  
2. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team   0:00:02  
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling  0:00:11  
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team  same time    
5. Lawson Craddock (USA) Bontrager   0:00:18  

General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
8. Damiano Caruso (Ita)      0:00:41 
54. Davide Villella (Ita)     0:07:36
59. Edward King (USA)      0:10:58
70. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita)    0:15:34 
82. Juraj Sagan (Svk)       0:16:41 
85. Nariyuki Masuda (Jpn)      0:17:50
119. Fabio Sabatini (Ita)      0:29:11

Points Competition
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling  25  pts
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team  17  
3. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team   15  
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team  13  
5. Lachlan David Morton (Aus) Garmin-Sharp  12