The Jamis-Hagens Berman team came into the USA Pro Challenge with the aim at repeating the victory in the mountains classification, and got off to a good start in that endeavour by putting Ben Jacques-Maynes in the jersey after the opening stage in Aspen.
The team put both Jacques-Maynes and last year's mountains winner Matt Cooke in the breakaway on the 98km, three-lap circuit, but they faced a bit of unexpected competition from Lachlan Norris (Drapac), who surprised them in the first two of four category 4 ascents.
Jacques-Maynes fought back on the final lap, attacking ahead of the penultimate sprint at Snowmass, and then taking advantage of the technical, fast section that preceded the final climb to stay clear to win that as well. Norris and the rest of the breakaway were caught, and the points, plus two second places in the first two climbs, gave the 35-year-old Jacques-Maynes his first stint in a leader's jersey at a UCI race since winning the mountains classification of the Tour of Utah in 2012.
Last year Jamis-Hagens Berman won the mountains jersey, and it was a big goal to defend as best we could, and day one down, job done, Jacques-Maynes said. But he may not have been the rider who the team intended to take it, considering the climbing ahead this week, and his size, compared with Cooke.
Look at this jersey, I think it's an extra-large, he joked. "I think I'm the biggest guy to wear this jersey. We'll play it day by day, I'm feeling good, I've been at altitude for several weeks. I did a lot of racing to prepare for this."
Jacques-Maynes leads the classification over Norris by three points, with Cooke in third with six points. The situation might have been different, but the Drapac rider bested the duo in both mountain primes on the second lap, and they weren't about to let that happen again. The attack on the final lap was a tactical manoeuvre to shake up the group.
"I was trying to set up Cooke, to see if anyone would chase," he said. "The Drapac guy was sprinting pretty good and won first two. We changed tactics a bit, so we didn't try to go straight one on one. I had a lot of space by the top of the first KOM, and I'm a big guy, so I descend pretty well, and I could stay away.
"I didn't know who was behind, I was going full gas. It was just trying to make it. Jens [Voigt] came up and I tagged on best I could, even though I was at the limit already. I hung on for the [last] KOM, and got the job done."
Stage 2 from Aspen to Crested Butte has many more points on offer, with one each category 1, 2 and 3 climbs.
"We have Cooke with a few points in the classification, so we have a few cards to play, so we will see what happens," Jacques-Maynes concluded.