The podium ceremonies at the conclusion of the USA Pro Challenge's opening stage from Durango to Telluride were dominated by riders from US ProTeam Garmin-Sharp, eager to stamp their authority on one of their country's premier stage races which takes place in their backyard of Colorado.
Tyler Farrar won the field sprint finale from a 57-rider peloton in Telluride which not only ended a more than year-long winless drought, but also put the 28-year-old American sprinter in the leader's and the sprint classification jersey.
Farrar wasn't Garmin-Sharp's plan A for the day, however, as four teammates, Tom Danielson, Peter Stetina, Lachlan Morton and David Zabriskie, attacked early in the 202.1km stage as part of a massive 22-rider escape. While Garmin's Danielson and Christian Vande Velde talked at Saturday's pre-race press conference about only seconds being at stake until the final two stages, the US ProTeam opted for a scorched Earth campaign to take the bull by the horns on the first day of racing.
Danielson, Stetina and Zabriskie continued their campaign of aggression in the whittled-down lead group, along with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Andrew Bajadali (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), Serghei Tvetcov (Team Exergy) and Eduard Alexander Beltran Suarez (EPM-Une).
Over the top of the day's final climb, with just 15km remaining, Stetina and Danielson were the final survivors of the break and their bid to steal victory on the day came up just short in the outskirts of Telluride. Tom Danielson, however, donned the mountains classification jersey while Peter Stetina earned most aggressive rider honours for the day.
"KOM jersey, most aggressive rider, stage win, you can't ask for more," Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews. "I was really pleased. Obviously, as far as the overall picture, I wish Tom and Pete would have arrived with a minute in front of the peloton, but there were quite a few people who didn't want that to happen."
"We had a specific plan, and I think it's great that all the riders kind of invested in the idea, because it's not an easy proposition to make for the riders to ride so aggressively, but they did it and they did it really well," Garmin-Sharp directeur sportif Charlie Wegelius told Cyclingnews. "They did a super job."
While at last year's inaugural USA Pro Challenge the peloton approached the high altitude race with measured caution, this go round Garmin-Sharp tried to rip the race to pieces on the opening day.
"We've got a lot of really good riders in this race, but it seems like in this race and California we always end up in second, third or fourth, so we've got to come up with a way to use the fact that we've got a lot of depth, but we just don't have that one guy with the knock out punch," said Vaughters. "So we figured alright, first day, right out of the hole, let's see what we can do."
"We were all on the front and I think it took a lot of people by surprise," Christian Vande Velde told Cyclingnews. "It was just game-on from start to finish. They just clawed Pete and Tom back at the end, you barely ever see two teammates away like that with 5km to go, but they did an amazing job. And then Tyler made sure all that work wasn't for naught."
Tom Danielson, who led solo over the day's highest climb, Lizard Head Pass at 10,222 feet with 25km to go, and later found himself with Peter Stetina in a two-man team time trial to the finale, spoke about going out early on the attack.
"They didn't let us go, we smashed it in their face, pretty much," said Danielson. "In these races nobody lets anyone go anywhere. You just have to create the chaos, which we did on the front. You just have to take advantage of the chaos and hope people make weird decisions."
But did Garmin-Sharp play their cards too soon?
"Pete and Tom obviously did go deep but these are guys who do three-week Tours so they should be able to handle one day really hard and recover tomorrow," said Vaughters. "Tomorrow is a little bit more simple. You just have to be good for the very end, so I think they'll be OK.
"But at the end of the day when you gamble something like this, you can't worry about whether you're saving enough energy. You just have to say OK, these are the cards we're playing, and, you know, damn the torpedoes full speed ahead."
Pat Malach contributed to this report