Cannondale’s all-around powerhouse Peter Sagan won Stage Three, his second of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge cycling race, outsprinting the field after climbing a Cat Two mountain pass 9400 feet high.
After his Cannondale team mates reeled in a long solo attack by the irrepressible Jens Voigt, Sagan worked his way to the front with no leadout in an unorganized finish. His presence forced his rivals to attack early, hoping to get a jump, but the 23-year-old Slovakian champion had enough speed to catch up and win by a wheel’s length.
“After Jens Voigt dropped the other riders, our directeur sportif told me we must go pull on the front for a the finishing sprint,” Sagan told NBC-SN.
“The climb, it was very hard because all the riders from our team were tired. We pulled up the climb, changing the riders—then some other teams put on some riders for pulling, and that lasted until the last three kilometers, I think, or the last two.
“It was too many crashes in the last four kilometers, and two riders from my team maybe do not feel very good. I am very happy for this victory and also for my team.”
Sagan, who also won the final sprint in Stage One, was smart enough to spend three weeks at altitude in Colorado before the event, so his lungs could manage the thin air.
“I feel good I am here now three weeks and maybe I get used to the altitude”
Almost Jens Voigt’s Day
The 171-km stage started with a Cat Three climb after ten K. It was here that the first attack got a way a five-rider break including RadioShack’s Jen’s Voigt. Voigt attacked the break with fifty km left in the stage, trying to repeat his long solo win in Stage Four last year.
Cannondale ignored the break until it gained nearly five minutes, forty km from the finish; then the team shifted into high gear.
The 41-year-old Voigt, who says he will finally retire after the 2014 season, was first over the final cat Two climb up Rabbit Ears pass by almost four minutes, but Cannondale wanted another stage win.
Voigt stayed away until 2.9 km from the line—his exhausting fifty-km solo effort gained him nothing but sore legs.
Voigt, a month from his 42nd birthday, still has the legs and more importantly the heart to go for the long breakaway attacks—and sometimes he succeeds, as he showed in Stage Four of this race last year, and in Stage One of the 2013 Tour of California in May.
“I already thought this morning in the bus that I had a chance today. I told the boys today, ‘I want to go.’ I felt like today would be a day where the breakaway would have a chance to succeed, and I got the okay from my team directors and I made sure I am going to be in the breakaway.
“I think I created the breakaway over the top of that first KOM [King of the Mountains point] and we worked well together, and when I saw the group start falling apart I attacked left them behind.”
Voigt, riding against men literally half his age in some cases, has absolutely no doubt that he can win when he starts his trademark 100-mile attacks.
“Of course—I believed until the very last moment in my chances, of course. Otherwise it’s not worth going out there. If you don’t believe in you, it’s not worth going there.”
Still, he is a realist. “Five or six kilometers to go, when they had 45 seconds, 40 seconds, I was, ‘Ahhh, it’s not enough.’ Because in the end you lose ten seconds per kilometer and I thought ‘Hmmm, too much headwind,’ and I could not accelerate any more.
“About five, six kilometers from the finish line I started to go, ‘Mmm, I am going to be a little short here.’”
Jens might have come up a few kilometers short on Wednesday, but he will not let that stop him the next time he sees the opportunity to show the youngsters what the veteran can do.
None of the teams hoping to win the sprint could get organized in the final three kilometers. Cannondale had spent its forces get Sagan to the front; he was on his own.
Crashes decimated the Optum squad; Argos-Shimano had a couple rider near the front but the pace was too high to control the peloton. It cam edown to solo efforts.
Greg van Avermaet started the sprint 200 meters from the line, which turned out to be fifty meters too soon—the BMC leader ended up fourth. Sagan used van Avermaet as a leadout, and launched when van Avermaet slowed.
Optum’s Ryan Anderson took off when he saw van Avermaet launch, and he too came up just short, in third. Argos Shimano’s Luka Mezgec waited, then started his sprint just after Sagan, and crossed the line 18 inches after the winner.
A crash two k from the line took out about a dozen riders back in the pack, and another smaller crash in the final kilometer took out another, but everyone got up and crossed the line under his own power.
Garmin Sharp’s Lachlan Morton retains the race leader’s yellow jersey by two seconds over BMC’s Mathias Frank.
The 21-year-old Pro Challenge rookie will be put to the test by Stage Four, the race’s Queen Stage, with five lung-scorching categorized climbs.