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Lewis rewarded for aggressive racing at USA Pro Challenge

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Craig Lewis (Champion System) leading the break.

Craig Lewis (Champion System) leading the break. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich)
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Craig Lewis (Champion System) and Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) try to hold their lead on the field.

Craig Lewis (Champion System) and Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) try to hold their lead on the field. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich)

When it rains it pours, and for Champion System's Craig Lewis it's a sea of orange. The 28-year-old American had never worn a classification jersey in his nine-year professional career until stage 4 in Salt Lake City at the Tour of Utah, when he won the most aggressive rider award, and 10 days later, he duplicated the feat on the opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge, a 97.6km circuit race in Aspen, Colorado.

"I like the orange," Lewis told Cyclingnews with a laugh at his team car after he waded through a torrent of supporters following the podium ceremony. "I've got a good streak going. I've got Alberta in a couple of weeks so I'll just keep it going."

While stage 1 winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale) earned three jerseys on the day - leader's, points and best young rider - the remaining two were claimed by riders in the three-man break which spent the bulk of the day off the front. Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) swept the day's four KOMs to nab the mountains jersey while Lewis - the instigator of the move which formed about eight kilometres in after the day's first break, also containing Lewis, was neutralised - earned a spot on the podium for most aggressive rider.

"You never know how you're going to feel the first day," said Lewis. "I was a little nervous because I've got a lot of family here and a lot of support, so the pressure was kind of on. I live in Boulder, I've been there for the past three years, plus I've got family from Texas and South Carolina and friends from all over coming in to see the race.

"I made it into the first group of eight or nine of us and the peloton pulled us back, but at the last minute I went again. That's when Cooke and the Jelly Belly guy came across to us. I figured three guys they'd let go and once we had 45 seconds, it was gone."

Cooke's climbing acumen came to the fore, and Lewis and Ian Burnett (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) had no answer on any of the day's four KOMs. Burnett would be the first to crack in the stage endgame, while Lewis hung tough until the climb to the final KOM, situated 9.7km from the finish line when he, too, came unglued.

"There was no talk about it. He was strongest when it came to sprinting uphill. He grabbed that jersey. For me to have any jersey other than a leader's jersey is about the same. You get up on the podium and you get to wear it the next day.

"I was obviously suffering, it was a hard circuit, but I felt good. I still had some strength in the end, I don't think I'll be struggling too much tomorrow, but it's a hard start up Independence Pass, too."

Lewis reiterated that there would be more aggressive racing for the China-based Pro Continental squad throughout the seven-day event in the mountains of Colorado.

"The wins aren't going to come to us, the podium isn't going to come to us - we've got to chase it down," said Lewis. "We have to be aggressive and sneak away to get time on other people that aren't looking at us. That's the only way for us to do anything.

"This was kind of a taste of that and now hopefully our climbing guys will take over tomorrow and we'll see how it goes from there." Trainee Gregory Brenes was one of 17 riders to finish on the same time as Peter Sagan, while Chris Butler and Chad Beyer crossed the line in Aspen in a 23-man group five seconds later.