Aspen to Aspen 68 miles

The 2013 USA Pro Cycling Challenge started off with a circuit race that was an appetizer. No lung-searing prologue, but three laps of a 32.9km (20.44mi) circuit that was moving up and down the whole time. The climbs weren't big, but the pressure was on from the start. It's the kind of race that generally suits Cannondale Pro Cycling's Slovak Sprinting Sensation, Peter Sagan. But the race starts at 7,900' and the altitude is the wildcard.

Sagan's team came loaded with riders ready, willing, and able to support Sagan. Alessandro De Marchi, Ted King, Nariyuki Masuda, Fabio Sabatini, David Villella, and Sagan's brother Juraj Sagan are all excellent gregarios, while Damiano Caruso is a climber who can fit a support role and climb well enough to contend for the overall victory.

After a few short parade laps around downtown Aspen, the race started out fast, and an early break formed, causing a big reaction from the field. Just as it was caught, one of the protagonists of the first break, Champion-System's Craig Lewis, refused to give up. While he kept his head down and his exertion high, two riders escaped the peloton to join him. Matt Cooke of Jamis/Hagens-Berman and Ian Burnett of Jelly Belly came up to the solo Lewis, and the three decided to make a day of it.

Cannondale with the feared Sagan, seen as the best sprinter in the bunch, was obliged to set the pace from behind. No one seemed willing to help, and the team asked for no aid. They just kept in formation and slowly erased their gap to the break.

The three up front worked well together, with Cooke taking all of the King of the Mountain (KoM) sprints. Coming into the last one, Lewis attacked, first shedding Burnett. Then a few kilometers later, Lewis attacked again, only to shed himself. As Cooke ground up the last climb, the RadioShack squad took over chasing duties, and the gap was less than 20 seconds with ten kilometers (6.25mi) remaining.

As the field could finally start to read Cooke's number, a group of four shot out of the pack. Bissell's Carter Jones, RadioShack's George Bennett, BMC's Brent Bookwalter, and Peter Sagan got up to Cooke. Cooke had the energy to tag along.

This looked like it. The move that takes the day. All Sagan had to do was stay with the group and the sprint would probably be a mere formality. Of course, everyone else knew this as well. Bennett and Jones attacked the group and caught Sagan. Those with Sagan had little interest in giving the stage win to the Slovak. So Sagan and the others faded back to the pack.

The break had a ten-second gap with five kilometers (3.1mi) remaining. Bennett and Jones pushed it up to 20 seconds with three kilometers (1.8mi); it was back to 10 seconds. And into the final kilometer, it was Jones who was the last holdout a few seconds ahead of the chasing pack.

The BMC team led into the final corner for their sprinter Greg Van Avermaet. Sitting fourth wheel, Sagan launched his sprint. He easily blew by everyone to take the stage win and the first leader's jersey of the race. The victory also gave him the lead in the points competition and the Best Young Rider (aka Blue Jersey) Competition.

"I'm very happy," smiled the ever-cool Sagan. "I want to thank all my teammates because they pulled the field for the whole race and mine was a victory for the team. Of course, it was only 100km. Tomorrow will be harder. I'm happy for today and tomorrow will be tomorrow."

Tomorrow, the second stage takes the races from Aspen over the continental divide on their way to Breckenridge. 205km (128mi), with three big climbs totaling over 12,000' of climbing, will make defending Sagan's lead difficult. The day starts with a 32km (20mi) climb. Attacks will begin then. If Cannondale Pro Cycling can limit the time lost on the first climb, the team could be able to bring back the early break and see if Sagan can make it over the last hump with the leaders. If he's there, he could well win the second stage, too. If he falters, Damiano Caruso will have a chance to play his hand and go for both the victory and a shot at taking the leader's jersey from his teammate.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge 2013
Stage 1: Aspen to Aspen 68 miles

Stage Results
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling         in 2:26:00
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team         at same time
3. Kiel Reijnen (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling   same time
4. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack Leopard       same time
5. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team  same time

Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
6. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling  same time
46. Alessandro De Marchi Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:00:32
100. Davide Villella (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:04:59
104. Juraj Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:06:41
108. Nariyuki Masuda (Jpn) Cannondale Pro Cycling  same time
127. Ted King (USA) Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:12:41

General Classification
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling         in 2:26:00
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team          same time
3. Kiel Reijnen (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling  same time
4. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack Leopard       same time
5. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team  same time

General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
6. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling  same time
46. Alessandro De Marchi Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:00:32
100. Davide Villella (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:04:59
104. Juraj Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:06:41
108. Nariyuki Masuda (Jpn) Cannondale Pro Cycling  same time
127. Ted King (USA) Cannondale Pro Cycling   0:12:41

Points Competition
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling          15 points
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team          12
3. Kiel Reijnen (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling   10
4. Ian Burnett (USA) Jelly Belly    08
5. Craig Lewis (USA) Champion-System   08