Gregory Brenes is making the most of his trainee opportunity for Champion System at the USA Pro Challenge with a stellar fifth place finish in Thursday's queen stage from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek. The 25-year-old Costa Rican, brought on to the China-based Pro Continental team on August 1st spending the first seven months of the season without a pro contract, moved into sixth place overall and is knocking on the door of a top-five general classification result.
Brenes delivered a 15th place general classification result for Champion System at the Tour of Utah, the Costa Rican's debut with the team, and provided confirmation today to team director Ed Beamon's assessment that "Colorado suits him a little bit better".
After negotiating the pivotal Bachelor Gulch climb in Thursday's stage endgame with the chase group pursuing Tejay van Garderen, Mathias Frank, Tom Danielson and Janier Acevedo, Brenes dropped his fellow chasers on the technical descent and kept the pressure on up the punchy climb to the finish in Beaver Creek to finish alone in fifth.
"We knew today was the queen stage and all the strong riders like [Tom] Danielson and Tejay [van Garderen], and [Janier] Acevedo too, were the favourites today, but I felt good," Brenes told Cyclingnews. "As I ride more stages I'm feeling better and better.
"I'm so happy with the stage today and I think for tomorrow [Friday - ed.], I like the time trial. I hope to stay high on general classification."
Brenes has won multiple stages against the clock in his home Vuelta a Costa Rica, as well as the overall GC title, and has also proven himself in climber-friendly stage races such as the Tour de l'Avenir, where he placed 12th overall in the 2010 edition, won by Nairo Quintana, as well as an eighth place overall result in the Vuelta a Colombia in 2011. He's also not a stranger to performing at higher elevations.
"This is my first here in Colorado, but at home I train at 2,000 [metres] and I don't have much problem with altitude. But everybody has the same problems here, because 4,000 [metres] is too much altitude. When I'm feeling bad I know everybody else is feeling bad too."
While Brenes stated he's feeling better and better each day at the USA Pro Challenge, he's hoping to maintain the status quo in Friday's Vail time trial.
"I'll try and do better tomorrow, but I think I'll probably finish in about the same position [as today]. I think [Chris] Froome will make a big ride tomorrow, and I think the first three positions on GC are so strong for tomorrow as well."
Brenes turned pro in 2009 for Continental Team Differdange, moved to the Continental Burgos 2016-Castilla y Leon squad in 2010, then spent the previous two years riding for the Movistar Continental team. Beamon told Cyclingnews that Brenes first came to his attention last season.
"He's been in Spain the last three years and I network with some guys in Spain who put him on my radar towards the end of last year," Beamon told Cyclingnews. "We didn't really have room to put him on the roster at the beginning of the season, but back in February or March we were already talking about working him into the stagiaire program.
"We've been staying in touch all summer and he's just a great kid. With this team, with all the different cultures involved, you've got to get a guy with the right personality to plug him in. I felt pretty confident that he'd fit and he really has.
"Besides his riding he gets along with the guys - they're all totally dedicated to him now."
Entering tomorrow's time trial, Brenes is sixth overall on GC, 1:17 down on van Garderen but just 20 seconds shy of former GC leader Lachlan Morton.
"I think he's capable of a top-10 [overall] and there's always a little bit of luck involved, but if he can get a top-five overall that would be a really successful tour for us," said Beamon.