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Cyclingnews' live coverage of the USA Pro Challenge continues with stage 3, from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs, 170.4km.
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. The peloton begins from Breckenridge at 9400ft and heads down to Steamboat Springs today, but it's not a simple ride. Rabbit Ears pass, a category 2 climb cresting with 33km to go will make things interesting.
The start time has been moved a little bit later today: 12:20 instead of the originally planned 12:10.
The peloton had a leisurely morning in Breckenridge, but there is sure to be a fight after our 9km neutral roll-out today. There are KOM points on the line, and Jamis's Matt Cooke will be hoping to protect his lead in the competition over Craig Lewis. Ben Jacques-Maynes, his teammate, told Cyclingnews that if Cooke goes, "the other riders might just say 'go for it if you want to beat your head against the wall three days in a row'. Probably better would be for a break to go and have non-KOM riders scoop points so he can have a rest."
Riders are off for their neutral on time at 12:10 - let's just ignore the official race tracker...
Sky has lost another rider: Joe Dombrowski had to drop out because he was having too many nosebleeds because of the altitude and dry air. That sounds horrible.
Now that Dombrowski is out of the race, Sky told Cyclingnews they will focus on stage wins since Ian Boswell was their next best rider on GC at 2:43. The altitude has been affecting all of them - getting above 3,000m is no joke. It can be very bad for your health.
The riders are doing three neutral laps of Breckenridge for an enthusiastic and large bunch of fans lining the roads. They'll be heading out on course for the official start in a few minutes.
The peloton was fairly well decimated yesterday on Independence Pass: six riders ended up abandoning the stage. Optum lost its sprinter Ken Hanson. Team director Jonas Carney said "Hehas some deep lacerations and needs to stay off the bike for a few days. Honestly, his best shot for a win would have been in Denver and every day before that would have been trying to beat the time cut. We still have Ryan Anderson, Alex Candelario and Mike Friedman, who can still finish fast."
Darwin Atapuma (Colombia) snapped his chain in the neutral section and had to get a bike change.
Yesterday's finale was one of the most exciting 10km of racing we've seen in a while: Mathias Frank (BMC) was impressive on the Moonstone Road climb to win the stage, but kudos go to Lachlan Morton to do just enough to take the race lead by just two seconds. Peter Sagan also put on an impressive display with Tejay van Garderen. Expect to see Sagan up fighting for the win again today.
Dombrowski was our only DNS this morning. There was confusion over George Bennett (RadioShack) - he failed to sign in and the officials figured he wasn't starting, but he's in the race.
The flag has dropped and Ben King (RadioShack) was the first to attack. He was caught, but they are flying downhill.
Our next attack comes from Martijn Verschoor (Novo Nordisk) and Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare). They can't get away either. Flying along at 40mph, it's hard to go any faster.
166.4km remaining from 170.4km
It's downhill all the way to our first KOM at Swan Mountain. The crest comes only 11.3km into the stage. We expect there won't be any success to breakaways until the climb kicks in.
164.4km remaining from 170.4km
There is 2km until the turn onto Swan Mountain Road, then it's going to be on, as they say, like Donkey Kong. 5km to go until the KOM.
The field has taken that right turn - man, they are flying! - and the climb will kick in very quickly. It starts gently, but after a curve to the left it begins to get steeper and steeper. There are lots of fans lining the tight switchbacks.
The Jamis-Hagens Berman team has control of the front of the field, they are keen to protect the KOM jersey of Matt Cooke. They're keeping everything together at the moment. It's a short climb - not much more than 3km.
159.4km remaining from 170.4km
They are nearing the top and there are huge crowds gathered at the KOM line - there are attacks flying from the peloton, fighting for the points.
It's another fabulously beautiful day in Colorado - high, wispy clouds are punctuated by lower, white puffy ones with a backdrop of azure blue.
The climb isn't particularly steep - we'll get you those KOM results as soon as possible - but the descent is much steeper and twistier. A tricky one.
Everyone seems to be expecting today's stage to finish in a bunch sprint. Certainly riders will be feeling a little funny after sleeping at 3000m. For some reason high altitude seems to cause crazy dreams, or at the very least makes sleep difficult. There is also another big, big day tomorrow to save energy for.
Our KOM results: Davide Villela (Cannondale) attacked and was followed over the top by Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Jens Voigt (RadioShack Leopard), Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) and Tyler Wren (Jamis-Hagens Berman).
Now that they're over that first KOM, it's time for our breakaway! Taking advantage of the climb was JoshEdmondson (Sky), Voigt, Villella, Wren and Tvetcov - they now have a minute as the peloton takes their nature break.
5km to sprint number 1 for the breakaway.
150.4km remaining from 170.4km
The race is moving down a 5-lane wide road, plenty of room to get those team cars in behind the breakaway. There are groups of schoolchildren lining the road, so the peloton better finish their nature break before coming past.
The sprint ahead is going to be very fast - it's a rocketing downhill approach to Silverthorne.
147.4km remaining from 170.4km
Serghei Tvetcov was one of the ex-Exergy riders who was picked up by Jelly Belly in April this year. He's 25 (race age) and from Moldova. He's also the winner of this year's Cascade Cycling Classic and helping to push the break's lead to 2:00. 1km to the sprint.
Tvetcov is also the highest on GC of our five leaders - but he's almost six minutes down on Lachlan Morton's time - so Garmin is setting a medium tempo to keep him in reach.
50mph en route to the sprint line.
Our Moldovan must have heard his name mentioned and been inspired - he took that sprint ahead of Voigt and Wren. The gap is 2:20 as the peloton hurtles through behind.
143.4km remaining from 170.4km
Remember what we said about that lovely, lovely weather? Well things change rapidly in the mountains - it's sprinkling on the riders but there is blue sky overhead. There is but one, sad, Eeyore of a cloud crying on the peloton.
Our five leaders: Josh Edmondson (Sky) Jens Voigt (RadioShack), Davide Villella (Cannondale), Tyler Wren (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and erghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) now have 2:35 just over 30km into today's stage. Only 140 more to go.
The breakaway is working smoothly together, powering down the flat, straight road - the surface is still wet from our sad little cloud's tears, but he's moved on to bring someone else down.
We have quite a range of age and experience in the breakaway today: Tvetcov is 24, but has a number of pro years under his belt. Villella, who has been so eager in this race, is a trainee for Cannondale (sort of like an internship for cycling). He's only 22. Even younger is Edmondson, who just turned 21 in July. Tyler Wren is a decade older.
On the other end is Voigt, we all know he's over 40, yes, yes... still quite a vital time of life.
Someone ought to write a song called "cell phone wasteland" - because that's where we are at the moment. Last check, our leaders had 3:25 on the Garmin-led peloton, but we're not getting much else at the moment. Communication is spotty in the high mountains...
So let's think about the finale today: Hands up, who thinks it will be a sprint?
Ed Beamon (Champion System DS) does. "We really want to put one of our Asian riders in the early break", he told Cyclingnews, although that objective appears to not have been met.
"Today will almost certainly be a field sprint. Cannondale is confident with Sagan, Van Avermaet wants a stage win, and UHC is certainly confident too. We’ve also got Brenes who we want to protect for GC."
Oh dear, our sad cloud seems to like the attention and is following the breakaway, maybe it thinks it's just refreshing the riders - kind of like O'Brian's watering hole on Manayunk Wall. There is only blue sky on the horizon, however.
A smattering of ranchers cheer the race on from the gates of their dirt driveways.
Yesterday, it seems very few people thought that final climb would suit Sagan (except maybe for Cyclingnews) - he impressed BMC directeur Allan Peiper. About today's finish, Peiper said, "We’re looking for Van Avermaet today but Sagan will be there too. Who really knows what he can do after yesterday’s result?"
120.4km remaining from 170.4km
Only 50km done so far, but our breakaway is settling into their rhythm. Their gap continues to hover at 3:40 over the field.
The road to Heeney Dam is a narrow, winding road. The terrain seems to be favoring the breakaway, the lead has crept up to 4:00 at last check.
The breakaway is being assisted by the feeding frenzy in the peloton. It's lunchtime, and there are plenty of riders dropping back to team cars. Perhaps they get a ham sandwich when they wanted turkey, so they drop back again. No - I wanted COKE!
Our Cyclingnews blimp just passed over a bald eagle's perch - the majestic creature looked very proud of himself. He is taking a break from fishing in the Green Mountain Resevoir, which is off to the right of our breakaway.
The route around the resevoir isn't simple - there are a number of short, punchy climbs forcing the riders to get up out of the saddle. Nobody is shirking their share of the work, however.
The view of the Green Mountain Reservoir from this side is stunning - just like a postcard. There are a few cattle off to the right, lazing in the warm sun. The road ahead is carved into the side of a cliff face.
106.4km remaining from 170.4km
The breakaway crosses over the Heeney Dam.
103.4km remaining from 170.4km
The breakaway turns left onto highway 9, and Jens Voigt is at the front - he's not quite reached the point of telling his legs to shut up yet. They're still having civil conversation.
In fact, Voigt's legs see the 5km to the feed zone sign and send a signal up to the brain asking for a toasted salami sandwich with hot mustard. Or something German like that.
So why is Steamboat Springs called Steamboat Springs? It's not as if the Yampa River is conducive to such large ships... but apparently the spring itself, chugging up gas from its depth, sounded like a steamboat to the early settlers. After they'd forcibly removed the native Yampatikas Utes, they renamed the town.
The breakaway has reached the feed zone, they've got a 3:30 gap - so no "virtual lead" for Tvetcov yet. There's still plenty of racing to do, but Garmin doesn't seem to want to let things get out of hand.
The race is passing through what appears to be the middle of nowhere, but yet there are still fans having a picnic on the roadside. Maybe they're really here to see the llama farm to the left of our peloton.
Larry Desjardin @modularconx:
Good headwind at 5K from finish line at #ProChallenge today. Could make it hard for a break.
Chuck Wisecup @harleyfyrfytr :
Storms developing near Kremmling. Could end up with some wet #ProChallenge riders
87.4km remaining from 170.4km
The breakaway is seeing 5km to the sprint in Kremmling.
The feed zone support crews have loaded up and need to get ahead of the peloton, which could make things interesting for a moment.
There are some spotty storms in the area, and there is a little sprinkle on the peloton at the moment. There are some angry clouds to the right of the riders. Hopefully the storms will move off before the finish.
Well, that shower was only enough to wet the roads down, but the rain has stopped. It's still status quo in the breakaway/peloton split department.
I suppose it's time to play guess the catch! Tweet your guess to @laura_weislo and whoever is closest without going over will win bragging rights for the day.
Oh - we've got a 4:24 gap to the breakaway now and they're just inside 1km to the sprint. Who will get the prize?
81.4km remaining from 170.4km
Trainee Villella gets to show off for the bosses and he takes the sprint over Tvetcov and Voigt.
I suspect that the breakaway have about 40km to enjoy that gap, and then on the climb of Rabbit Ears Pass it will begin to tumble.
Jamis's Ben Jacques Maynes said "in the scheme of things here, that last climb isn’t too hard. It should be a sprint today".
So far the dopplar radar is clear over Steamboat Springs - the spotty showers appear to be near the current breakaway's position and to the south, so things should dry up from here on out.
Well, maybe the break will lose some of their lead now that they've had to 'answer the call of nature'. Wonder what that ringtone sounds like?
I've been remiss and haven't talked enough about Tyler Wren, who is representing Jamis in the break. He's one of the nicest guys you'll meet in the peloton. He isn't just a one-dimensional roadie, he also races cyclo-cross. He's a very good climber and hard worker of such value to the team he's been with the same organisation since 2003.
Nathan Van Dyne @NathanVanDyne:
Rode Rabbit Ears this morning. More than 5 hours before #prochallenge cyclists were set to pass, many were claiming their spots
>We have our first guess on the catch:
Andrew Rockwell @A_Rockwell :
The answer is its over whenever @thejensie decides he's emasculated the rest of the peloton enough and takes pity.
67.4km remaining from 170.4km
The situation has been so stagnant, the road so long and straight that it seems as if nothing has moved. The only sign that we've progressed through the stage is the scrub grass whizzing by. But look up at the horizon and you might as well be standing still.
It might seem like we're standing still, but the peloton is actually on one of the quickest of the predicted average speeds for the day - the break is rolling along at a 25mph average.
Oh that's right - Edmondson is race bib #13, and out of superstition he's got the numbers pinned upside down. One day I suspect the UCI will make that practice illegal.
58km remaining from 170.4km
The breakaway still has another 17km to ride before they begin the climb, it seems likely they'll keep that lead, now 5:10 - our maximum gap for the day.
The break is heading into the hills - the sides of the road are rolling, scrub-covered mounds. It's a it of a false flat here. Tvetcov has a word with Voigt.
Optum has started to lend a hand with the chasing from the peloton - they've put two guys on the front, thinking their best chance at a stage win might be a sprint today.
It looks like Voigt's legs are beginning to complain a little - he's riding mouth open, trying to capture the few oxygen molecules available.
It seems Voigt learned he was on television and he's gone on the attack!
Tvetcov helped to do the big job of pulling the German back to the break of five, but he goes again.
As a result of the antics, the gap to the peloton is down to 4:55. Edmondson is trying to bridge soloe, while Tvetcov and Wren have words about chasing.
Edmondson just sits up and goes back. He has suffered in the altitude and doesn't want to go this hard. Voigt is riding like a machine.
Tvetcov is on the front, and looks like he's the strongest of the four chasers, but Voigt is big-ringing on the false flat, opening up his gap.
Wren is suffering with the pace of the chasers - he's lost contact by a bit, trying to hold on...
Now Tvetcov attacks - Edmondson goes after him, followed by Villella, with Wren bringing up the rear. They all come back together but Voigt has "flown the coop".
48.8km remaining from 170.4km
Voigt is opening half a minute on the chasers, but he's holding the break's previous gap to the field steady at 4:50. It's not so much that he's attacking but that the rest are losing ground.
Voigt is on a false flat - or a climb before the official climb starts. The grade is still big-ring worthy, but his gap is falling to the field: 45 on the chase, 4:15 on the peloton.
Voigt is riding the white line - the tiny scrap of asphalt between the white line and the gravel, actually. Maybe he's working to correct his wacky wobbly style.
Now Argos-Shimano has put a man on the front of the chase.
Voigt's Trek is painted up in the red, black and yellow of Germany. Emblazoned on the top tube is his motto. I suspect the legs are complaining now, so he might want to read from the script.
I wonder if he has a saying for his lungs? Because they're probably screaming at him right now that there isn't enough oxygen in the air. Maybe "go to hell lungs"?
44km remaining from 170.4km
Voigt takes a little descent, a respite for the legs and lungs, as the peloton bunches back up - the four chasers are at 1:30, but the main bunch is letting Voigt dangle at 4:15.
Voigt loves to put on a show for the Americans. He won a stage in Tour of California earlier this year to Avila Beach. That was a much, much later breakaway. Here, he has 42km to go and a category two climb between himself and the finish.
The German also soloed to victory in this race last year, on the stage from Aspen to Beaver Creek, so he's OK with going all out at altitude.
Voigt is on the climb now - at least according to the race bible. It's 7.9km to the top, but not terribly steep. He shouldn't fear the chasers, they've gone to 2:10 and are midway between Voigt and the bunch.
Edmondson has decided that he doesn't want to go back to the field with the rest of the chasers - as Voigt sees 5km to the top, the Sky rider attacks the chasers and goes solo in pursuit.
Last year when he won in Beaver Creek, Voigt was solo for some 100km or more, so perhaps 50km isn't very much to the German. He's got his team car there for water and seems happy to keep going.
Cannondale must think that Voigt's move is futile or at least want to make it so. They've come en masse to the head of the peloton.
It's a pursuit between Jens Voigt at the front and Ted King, chasing for the peloton. Right now King is winning - he's whittled the gap to 3:45. We're still waiting to hear whether Edmondson stayed away from the other chasers.
King gets releief from Juraj Sagan, while for Voigt up front, there is nothing but him, the empty road and his verbose legs.
The Rabbit Ears Pass has plenty of fans, some of whom have been up here since last night or early this morning to see the race. Voigt moves away from a line of people. The pavement is quite bad, which only makes it harder to keep momentum.
32.7km remaining from 170.4km
Voigt sees 1km to the top.
Voigt gets the KOM, powering across the line but then he still has to pedal for a while before he gets to rest on the descent.
US Pro champion Fred Rodriguez is up near the front of the peloton with a dizzying array of jelly beans depicted in red white and blue on his kit.
There is an injection of pace in the peloton from Jamis's Ben Jacques Maynes leading Cooke out for the KOM.
The gentlemen of the peloton don't challenge Cooke for the points, but we're still unclear as to who was still ahead.
At the top of Rabbit Ears Pass, Voigt had 1:55 on the chase and 3:35 on the field.
Tvetcov has come back to the field.
Bissell comes to the front of the peloton as they traverse the rolling plateau.
30km remaining from 170.4km
Still 30km to go for Voigt and he's losing ground more rapidly now.
BMC is beginning to come together behind the Garmin train, but it's Cannondale at the front catching Tyler Wren.
KOM 2: Voigt, Edmondson, Wren, Tvetcov, Cooke, Caruso and Danielson.
Voigt is all business, while in the peloton behind it's a feeding frenzy - bottles are being passed around as if it was a freshman year frat party.
27km remaining from 170.4km
A slight descent has strung the peloton out single file, and Voigt's lead is down to 3:20. The real descent is still a few km away.
24km remaining from 170.4km
Voigt is still having to pedal furiously - his gap now down to 3:00 and it looks like Edmondson will be caught by the peloton soon.
Edmondson is in sight of the field, he radios back to let his team know he's there.
23km remaining from 170.4km
Edmondson is caught, and now Optum and the Swedish champion from Argos take up some of the work.
Voigt is on the proper descent, but is still having to pedal. It's not so steep, although there is a sign warning trucks to use low gears. Voigt tucks low onto his top tube to get as aerodynamic as possible.
Swedish champ Michael Olsson is helping to do the work bringing Voigt's lead down to 2:25. Cannondale, Argos, Optum all rolling through while Garmin keeps Morton safe just behind.
Where is UnitedHealthcare? We expect to see the 'blue train' forming. Cyclingnews spoke to Chris Jones this morning, who said, "We got third on Monday with Kiel, and we’re knocking at the door for a stage win. It’s going to happen. Kiel is good from a smaller group-strong man sprint, while Bazzana is more of a pure sprinter, so we have options."
13km remaining from 170.4km
Voigt's lead has fallen further, now down to 1:45 with 13km to go. Even the Colombians have come to the front on the descent.
Voigt can see the end of his respite - the descent stops up ahead and deposits him on a long, straight, flat highway. The peloton will be able to see him in the distance.
10km remaining from 170.4km
Inside the 10km to go mark and just 1:20 for Voigt. The peloton is disorganized now, but expect the lead-out trains for form as they hit the flat final 10k.
Two Optum riders follow a Cannondale man off the front but it's a brief split at best.
BMC is now moving up for Van Avermaet - he wants to get into the points jersey, but Sagan is still there with his entire team.
8.5km remaining from 170.4km
The peloton is not lined out yet, Optum has the front. Voigt has just 1:05 - he's still riding strong but he's up against it.
5km remaining from 170.4km
Even Team Sky has put a rider on the front. The gap is down to 45 seconds with 5km to go.
Still no organization - has the lack of oxygen interfered with the teams' ability to do math? They're running out of time to catch Voigt.
35 seconds and Bontrager is moving forward for Craddock. Fred Rodriguez is in the mix.
3.3km remaining from 170.4km
20 seconds for Voigt. Can he hold on?
2.9km remaining from 170.4km
The answer is no. They have Voigt in sight, just meters ahead.
CRASH: Cannondale Optum and Argos on the floor.
It was inside the 3km mark, but Optum's Mike Friedman is not getting up very quickly.
1.7km remaining from 170.4km
Sagan, Van Avermaet are up front - BMC pushing the pace with 1.5km to go.
Gretsch takes a huge pull, leaving Schar to take over
Van Avermaet hits the final 200 m a little too early on the front. Candelario goes, but Sagan is there.
Sagan comes like a rocket down the middle to get the stage win over an Argos rider.
Voigt sips a well-deserved coke after the stage, his work should earn him most aggressive rider of the stage.
It was Mezgec for Argos in 2nd, with Anderson, not Candelario in third.
Van Avermaet was fourth after sprinting too early, while Bazzana came in ahead of Colombian trackie Edwin Avila. Verschoor of Novo Nordisk in the next spot, with Gallopin, Tanner Putt and Caruso rounding out the top 10.
1Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling
2Luka Mezgec (Slo) Team Argos-Shimano
3Ryan Anderson (Can) Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies
4Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
5Alessandro Bazzana (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team
6Edwin Alcibiades Avila Vanegas (Col) Colombia
7Martijn Verschoor (Ned) Team Novo Nordisk
8Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack Leopard
9Tanner Putt (USA) Bontrager
10Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling
We're glad to see Mike Friedman come across the line under his own power, but he's missing a lot of skin on his right shoulder and his jersey is shredded. He's a tough guy but that hurts.
Peter Sagan has extended his green jersey lead to 16 points over Van Avermaet. Cooke leads the KOM from Wren by 13 points, with Morton in third.
Morton keeps the race lead, still a thin two seconds over Mathias Frank (BMC), with Sagan in third at 11 seconds, tied with van Garderen.
Stage 4 is the Queen Stage of the race, a huge climber's day to Beaver Creek. Join us then. Thanks for reading.