Jonny Clarke (UnitedHealthcare) is not usually considered a climber, but he made the most of an early breakaway and outwitted Michael Torckler (Team Budget Forklifts) to take the Sierra Nevada KOM Jersey on the first day of racing at the USA Pro Challenge.
UnitedHealthcare's initial plan was to put Danny Summerhill in the day's early break. Summerhill, a Colorado native, knows the roads well and is comfortable in the high mountain air. Summerhill rode hard the first half hour of the race to get away, but to no avail.
"After [Summerhill] started to get tired I tried once and kind of accidentally got in," Clarke said. "It was always just to have representation, because at the end we wanted to go for Kiel and John Murphy, if he stayed there. While I was there I had to try for the KOM."
Once in the break, Clarke found himself fighting Kiwi rider Torckler for KOM points. Clarke jumped early for the first KOM but was caught by Torckler, who took the first KOM, followed by Clarke. The pair reversed positions on the next, and final, KOM.
"I was feeling alright for that first lap but just went to the limit probably a few too many times," Torckler said. "I was starting to tire a bit towards the end I think."
Tied for points, the final determination for the KOM leader would be made according to stage placing. Clarke positioned himself perfectly in the final sprint and finished in 26th place, two spots ahead of Torckler, who finished 28th.
"I had to be kind of a bit crafty in the final and cross the line before Torckler," Clarke said. "He could be there just as much as me. I was just lucky in the end."
Clarke was unsure about his chances to keep the jersey. He pointed to Rabbit Ears Pass as an indicator as to whether he might contend for the jersey. The race hits Rabbit Ears early, only 7km into the the 165km race. Rabbit Ears will send riders over 2,750 metres, testing the peloton's comfort at altitude.
"We'll see how the legs are," Clarke said. "If they are good I'm sure I"ll be up in the front and go after the jersey. I think more importantly are stage wins with Kiel or John Murphy. So if it falls into my hands, which it probably won't because you have to sprint uphill, I will take it. We'll see what happens."
Torckler is keen to continue his pursuit of the KOM jersey. He won the KOM jersey in Utah in 2013 while riding with Bissel Pro Cycling. It is a remarkable comeback for Torckler, who was critically injured in a hit-and-run collision in 2012.
"For sure, for sure. I'll go hard and see what happens," Torckler said when asked if he would continue to pursue KOM points.
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