The Hincapie Sportswear Development Team might have been a somewhat surprising addition to the rosters for the USA Pro Challenge and Tour of Utah, but the determined group of young riders have certainly proved worthy of the invitations, and Robin Carpenter's stage victory at Crested Butte today was the pinnacle of their success so far.
"It's huge for me, it's massive, the best win I've ever had in my short career," Carpenter said after his solo victory. The attack was part of a pre-planned assault on the stage in which the Hincapie Devo team put three riders in the day's breakaway.
Carpenter entered into the 12-rider breakaway with Dion Smith and Joe Lewis, and survived with his teammates in the move after the category 1 climb to McClure Summit with 83km to go. But the long, part-dirt, part-pavement ascent split the group, and only Carpenter was able to claw his way to the front group with mountains classification leader Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly/Maxxis) - then attacked them on the final climb of Kebler Pass.
"I attacked the breakaway with about 10km to the top of climb, and after that I had no clue what was happening. The last time check we had was 30 seconds, and I figured I was just doing a television attack, and maybe earn the most aggressive rider jersey. I had it in my mind that if I had enough time on Kebler Pass, I could get into Crested Butte with 30 seconds, that was the plan. It ended up working out."
Part of the reason the move worked came when a thunderstorm descended on the Kebler Pass, turning the dirt sections of the route to mud, churning up the course into such a state that the race officials deemed it necessary to temporarily stop the race.
"It might have worked to my advantage to be out front alone, because I didn't have to deal with the mud from the wheels in front of me being kicked up into my face. I'm sure if you were in the peloton you couldn't see anything."
However, the officials stopped both Carpenter and the chasing field after the dirt sections of the descent, and the stoppage, which took place in the midst of a freezing cold downpour, made a bad situation worse.
"Once you stop, you shut down," Carpenter said. "I had been on the edge of bonking over climb [and I] was already freezing, I couldn't feel my arms and legs."
Team director Thomas Craven told Cyclingnews that there was so much confusion between the field and the officials, and the lack of radios on the riders made him worried that Carpenter's advantage might be wiped out by a decision by the judges.
"My fear was the neutralization wasn't going to happen, or they were going to stop Robin and not stop the field," Craven said. "So my goal was to get to the front and as soon as they stopped him, get a jacket on him and tell him to go like hell. It was going to be too confusing."
Finally, Carpenter was flagged down by a neutral support car, bringing everyone to a stop with just 9km to go. Eventually the race was re-started, but Carpenter had to get back into his racing rhythm - something that was difficult for everyone to do.
"I don't know how much time they gave me, but it could have played to my advantage. Normally it'd be me against a team rotating, since the descent is not that steep, but since it was cold, everyone was shutting down, and there weren't many teams with riders left to chase. The rain threw a wrench in everyone's plans."
Even with the drama on the day, Craven was thrilled to get a stage victory on the world's stage here in Colorado, and at a time when new sponsor deals are being hammered out, it was especially important. The move was similar to Carpenter's attack in the Tour of Utah, when he made the opening stage breakaway, and won the intermediate sprint and both mountain sprints to don the king of the mountains jersey. Joey Rosskopf continued the good fortune there, taking second at the Snowbird Summit and winning the overall mountains classification for the team in Utah.
"It's massive for the team," Craven said of today's performance by the team. "Yesterday, Robin said 'I couldn't believe how bad I felt'. Then today, everybody was good. We were trying to carry it on from what we did in Utah. We tried to put guys in the break. We knew it probably wasn't going to go after the second sprint. We got the first sprint because we wanted to win the fishing pole, and it just went from there."
"The rides we have been having all year puts a good stamp on everything. George and Rich Hincapie, Holowesko Partners and the other sponsors have been very supportive. We have another week of racing, so hopefully we get more opportunities."