For the second straight year at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge the Colombian Continental squad EPM-Une made its mark at what is becoming the premier stage race in the United States, amidst the rarified air of Colorado. Only one rider returned from the previous year's roster, Rafael Infantino, who had placed sixth overall and third on the mountains classification, but the squad yet again found itself at home in the high mountains while competing against strong ProTeam and Pro Continental teams.
Always on the attack, putting at least one rider into each of the road stages' deciding breaks, EPM-Une also cracked the top-10 on each road stage and scored points in all but one KOM. The team, which won the 2011 UCI America Tour, was one of just four that had all of its starters finish the USA Pro Challenge, the others were all ProTeams: Garmin-Sharp, RadioShack-Nissan and Astana.
While the final time trial in Denver was not kind to the team, their top GC rider Ramiro Rincon dropped from 5th to 15th, the most compelling result for the Colombian squad was how tantalizingly close yet again they came to claiming the USA Pro Challenge's climber's jersey. In 2011 EPM-Une's Walter Pedraza wore the jersey into the final stage from Golden to Denver, but lost the classification lead by one point to compatriot Rafael Montiel (Gobernacion De Antioquia - Indeportes Antioquia) on the stage's only KOM, the final one of the race.
This year Francisco Colorado rode into the virtual KOM lead during Saturday's final road stage from Golden to Boulder, and its Flagstaff Mountain finish, after scoring points on each of the day's first two KOMs, but nobody figured what would happen on the day's third and final KOM, which doubled as the finish on the Flagstaff Mountain climb.
Colorado was part of the day's early break and dropped off the pace once they began climbing Flagstaff, content in the knowledge that he'd overtaken Tom Danielson's leading mountain classification points total by two points, 52 to 50. What Colorado, and virtually nobody else figured, was that Jens Voigt, who started the day tied on points with Colorado, also scored at the first two KOMs and then tried to win the stage. Voigt fell short of that, finishing third behind Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) and Fabio Aru (Astana), but unwittingly wrested the climbers jersey away from Colorado by scoring points at the finish, topping both Colorado and Danielson with 55 points.
"We weren't counting on the guy who won [the mountains jersey] yesterday," Colorado told Cyclingnews via translator before Sunday's concluding time trial in Denver. "I trusted my points total and never considered him (Jens Voigt) for the overall [mountains classification]."
Voigt was as surprised that he won as Colorado was about having the jersey slip through his fingers.
"I never really thought I could take it, because also the Colombian kept sprinting for the points," Voigt said. "So I thought, here he is, he can take it, I'm not in that business. I was just looking for the stage. And then they said, 'Yeah, you might have the KOM.' And I was like, 'Really?'"
Francisco Colorado didn't enter the KOM picture until the USA Pro Challenge's queen stage from Gunnison to Aspen on the third day of racing. Colorado infiltrated the break of the day and won top honours at the summit of Cottonwood Pass, the ceiling of the USA Pro Challenge at 12,126 feet. Colorado made it to the base of the day's final climb, Independence Pass and its 12,095 foot summit, in the company of Garmin-Sharp's Tom Danielson and Dave Zabriskie plus Jeff Louder of UnitedHealthcare. As soon as the ascent began in earnest it became a two-man race at the head of affairs between Danielson and the fittingly named Francisco Colorado. The 32-year-old Colombian led for much of the climb, but Danielson dropped him near the summit. Colorado, however, still scored second place points. Danielson remained in the lead of the classification with 45 points, while Colorado now had 22 as he entered the standings in fifth place.
On the following stage, Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) went on a rampage from Aspen to Beaver Creek on a near stage-long solo attack. The 40-year-old German swept up maximum points at each of the day's three KOMs and Voigt ended the stage with a hard-earned victory and third place on the KOM standings at 34 points. Danielson and Colorado failed to score any points, but Colorado's teammate Jorge Castiblanco was second on the day's first two KOMs and moved into second overall on the classification, just four points behind Danielson.
Stage 5, covering 189.7km from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs, featured just one climb, the category one Hoosier Pass, whose ascent began nearly from kilometre zero and whose KOM line was situated 16.3km into the route. Colorado joined the early break and crested the summit in first place, moving himself into a tie for third place on the classification with Jens Voigt. Colorado soon dropped out of the break, his KOM goal accomplished for the day. Colorado's teammate Castiblanco jumped away from the peloton to earn the final point on offer at the KOM and narrowed Danielson's lead to three points.
It would be Colorado, however, with the legs on the following day into Boulder to seek KOM points, but as happened last year, the EPM-Une team fell just shy of their goal.
Nonetheless, Colorado has enjoyed his stint in the United States, which began prior to the USA Pro Challenge at the Tour of Utah.
"I like it here a lot, I feel at home," said Colorado. "I feel very emotional about the whole race. There are so many people who embrace the sport and I didn't know that.
"Hopefully next year we'll come back again...and probably win it," Colorado said with a laugh. "We'll come again and show what we can do. This year we haven't raced much outside of Colombia but with all of the experience in travelling around it will be easier for us."
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