American Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp won Stage One of the USA Pro Challenge cycling race, outsprinting the field by seven lengths to take the winner’s yellow jersey.
Farrar, a sprinter and definitely not a climber, fought his way over three categorized climbs, more than sixty miles of uphill riding, with the highest, Lizard Head Pass, at 10,247 feet—the thin air was as tough as the incline.
He then stuck with the peloton through the long chase to catch the breakaway, and forced his way to the front in the final three ultras-fast miles into Telluride for the finish.
The climb up Lizard Head was the hardest part of the race, he told NBC Sports reporter Bob Roll. “I had to turn myself inside out to make it over that.
“I knew today could possibly be a sprint but I really wasn’t sure if I’d have the legs to make it—pretty happy to pull it off.
“Our team’s home is in Colorado so we take this race really seriously” Farrar continued. “A win here is huge.
“For me personally I’ve had kind of a disaster of a season so this means a whole lot to me, to finally get a win.
The Garmin sprinter found the climbs and the height a bit daunting, but he decided to try. He was glad he did, not just because of the long-elusive win, but because of the atmosphere.
“When I looked at the [stage] profile when I came here, I thought, ‘What am I even doing here? This is ridiculous,’ but I guess it was worth it,” he said.
“I haven’t had many opportunities to race in the U.S. in my career, so to come here and win with so many people watching on such a cool stage—pretty insane setting— it was great.”
Garmin Goes All-In
Farrar was just finishing off the work done by his teammates, four of which joined the 22-rider breakaway. The breakaway fractured on the fifty-mile climb up the day’s second categorized climb, Lizard Head Pass.
Garmin rider Tom Danielson attacked near the top of the climb, and was soon joined by teammate Peter Stetina, with Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas and Eduard Beltran of EPM-UNE. Danielson and Stetina dropped the other two, but despite their best efforts, couldn’t keep clear of the peloton, which caught them three miles from the finish.
Garmin team leader David Zabriskie was in the breakaway, but ill health forced him to drop back. He struggled home well after most of the other riders, but ahead of the cut-off time.
Garmin’s plan had been to blow the stage wide open with attacks, to gain a General Classification advantage for several riders at the end of the day. The plan didn’t work, but Stetina and Danielson took a really good shot at it, falling short by only three miles. Had Zabriskie been with them, who knows what might have happened?
After the catch the peloton couldn’t organize for a sprint. Most of the true sprinters were well back of the bunch, struggling after the high-altitude climbs and the high-speed chase
Garmin certainly had no one left to lead out Farrar; the whole team was burnt out. Farrar therefore followed United Healthcare’s Rory Sutherland. Sutherland might have thought he was leading teammate Robert Forster. It was a different rider in a blue jersey, however; Farrar pulled around and blasted past to take his first win since July 4, 2011.
Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge doesn’t have intensely steep hills such as might be found in the Pyrenees, or long, steep climbs like the Alps; what the Rocky Mountains offer are incredibly long climbs that start at altitudes higher than some peaks in those other ranges, with peaks up above 12,000 feet.
With one-third less oxygen in the air, plus the cold, these climbs present an entirely different challenge to riders, and even riders native to the area can find the altitude a problem.
Hard exertion in this environment should be impossible, but somehow the riders manage. They will have to manage in Stage Two which features two steep climbs early in the 99-mile stage—the Cat 3 Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Summit—plus a two-mile uphill finish to Mt. Crested Butte at 9500 feet.
The last 35 miles are uphill, and the last two miles are steep, but the stage itself is short enough, riders should have some energy left to fight it out at the finish.