Gunnison to Aspen

Go Early. Go Late.
An epic escape in the mountains is nearly foiled by fast-charging Caruso.

The 130.5-mile Stage Three, the race from Gunnison to Aspen, was designed to deliver an epic day of racing in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. And it delivered. Garmin-Sharp's Tom Danielson spent most of the day off the front of the race, the last 22 miles alone, yet he prevailed by a mere two seconds over Liquigas-Cannondale's Damiano Caruso and a hard-charging chase group.

The stage began, as usual, furiously, and the first intermediate sprint ten miles into the race already had a large break up the road. The high speeds reshuffled the break and the field, and a large group was rolling away with a decent gap. In there was Liquigas-Cannondale's Valerio Agnoli flying the flag for the team. But the first big climb of the day, Cottonwood Pass, over ten miles in length and toping out above 12,000 feet, showed that his legs weren't recovered from his breakaway efforts yesterday, and he fell off the pace.

As he was going back, Tom Danielson of Garmin-Sharp was moving up. The rider, who rode the breakaway all day on Stage One joined with the leaders on Cottonwood and drove the break with his Garmin teammate Dave Zabriskie, putting Danielson in the virtual race lead over current race leader Tejay Van Garderen of BMC. Zabriskie took control of the group, keeping the pace high. His efforts along with those of Danielson narrowed the group to three until Zabriskie cracked on the lower slopes of the twenty-mile Independence Pass climb, leaving Danielson with Colombian Francisco Colorado of EPM-Une. Colorado eventually couldn't hold Danielson's wheel and the Garmin rider was thus alone with a two-minute lead and 22-miles to go, most of it downhill. Danielson crossed the summit with 1:50 on race leader Van Garderen and a tense high-speed pursuit played out all the way to the finish line. Danielson's lead started eroding slowly on the trickier parts of the descent, but came down fast in the final miles.

With a mile to go, Danielson's grasp on the yellow jersey was finally relinquished and the field, which had grown on the descent, started the battle for the final sprint. Coming into the final turn, Danielson had several seconds in hand but Caruso was accelerating and closing fast. At the line, Danielson didn't offer a victory salute, possibly because he was too tired, but also because he knew he needed every second. And indeed, Caruso crossed the same finish line two seconds after Danielson passed it. But Caruso obtained a great consolation prize; his second place meant he took the lead in the Points Competition. Tomorrow, he'll trade his team jersey for the Green Jersey of Points Leader.

In the race for the overall, Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde took the leader's jersey, even though he's still on the same time with Van Garderen. The difference turned out to be in their finishing places; when they were added up over the race thus far, Vande Velde has higher stage placings and that is enough to wrest the jersey from the BMC ride. Caruso moved up to seventh overall, though the two seconds he lost to Danielson on the line were enough to have the Garmin rider leap over him by two seconds. Caruso is still twelve seconds behind the new leader.

Still, the close-but-far results of Caruso have the young Italian frustrated. "I really don't know what do to find my first win as pro. A second place is a good result but get so close to the win for the second time still smarts. Today I only needed a little bit of luck because I easily won the sprint from a small bunch. Danielson did an incredible action so congratulations to him. I'm still working for a stage win. The Points Jersey? A really good consolation, I hope to hold it as long as possible." Vincenzo Nibali, ordinarily the team leader is happy riding for Caruso. "We knew that Damiano had good condition and, since the beginning, we wanted to support him for GC. Today, I worked for him, to help to find his first win. I will also support him in the following days."

That help will be needed as tomorrow, the field turns around in Aspen and rides over Independence pass again on the 97.2-mile ride to Beaver Creek. Even though the fourth stage of the race starts with a 20-mile climb, the route is mostly downhill, with a short rise in Beaver Creek finishing off the day. It looks like a good day for a field sprint and Caruso, who has been at the front of every stage, should be in a good position to sprint across the line in first.

Stage 3 Results—Gunnison to Aspen—130.5mi
1. Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin - Sharp 5:02:06
2. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:02
3. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) RadioShack-Nissan Same Time
4. Gavin Mannion (USA) Bontrager Livestrong Same Time
5. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team Same Time

Stage 3 Results Liquigas-Cannondale
19. Timothy Duggan (USA) Same Time
30. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) 0:00:18
41. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:06:54
64. Moreno Moser (Ita) 0:12:02
71. Valerio Agnoli (Ita) 0:17:43
77. Ted King (USA) 0:26:40
81. Ivan Basso (Ita) Same Time

Overall Standings
1. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Sharp 13:37:20
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team Same Time
3. Ivan Rovny (Rus) RusVelo 0:00:06
4. Levi Leipheimer (USA) OmegaPharma-Quickstep 0:00:08
5. Ramiro Rincon Diaz (Col) EPM - Une Same Time

Overall Liquigas-Cannondale
7. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 0:00:12
18. Timothy Duggan (USA) 0:00:21
36. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) 0:03:25
41. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:10:14
61. Moreno Moser (Ita) 0:26:26
69. Ted King (USA) 0:29:22
81 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) 0:38:01
86. Ivan Basso (Ita) 0:44:19

Points Competition Standings
1. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 22 pts
2. Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin - Sharp 16
3. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Sharp 15
4. Gavin Mannion (USA) Bontrager Livestrong 12
5. Alessandro Bazzana (Ita) Team Type 1 - Sanofi 12