NetApp-Enduracame to the USA Pro Challenge with the idea of scoring some good results with Czech rider Leopold König, who was seventh overall at the Tour de France in July, but after König came down with a fever before the race, Tiago Machado is looking more likely to be the team's contender for the overall classification.
Machado and teammate Bartosz Huzarski were the only riders from their team to make the 25-man leading group that split off from the main field on the final climb of the opening stage in Aspen. The team only arrived in Colorado five days before the race, and Machado was unsure of how he would cope with the high altitude, but seemed to handle the rare air just fine.
"The altitude is a problem, not only for me but for the whole peloton. There are some riders adapt better than others, but we try to do our best to support Leo. It's an important goal for us. He wasn't able to train with us the first two days, we trained yesterday and he's still sick. But we have other options to fight for a good result here," he said before the stage.
"Normally I do a good general classification. I don't know my condition for the moment. First I need to see how it goes, and with Leo too. If something happens I'm there too."
After winning the overall Tour de Slovénie in June, and coming fourth at the Tour of California and third overall at the Critérium International, he has the potential to make the podium in Colorado.
"I think my condition is not so bad, but we can ride into it during the week," he said.
Machado, a strong climber and time trialist, rode four years with RadioShack before joining NetApp-Endura this year. He was on track for a strong Tour de France and sitting third overall when on stage 10 he crashed hard and barely made it to the finish.
"I still have a little pain in the left knee, but that's not so important. I feel good on the bike. It's normal to have pain in the legs when you ride a bike."
The physical scars were merely superficial compared with the emotional toll that the crash took on him. "You go from heaven to hell in a few seconds," he said. "You have more pain in your soul than in your body. It's not easy to live with that, because you are in a good position, we were in good shape, and in a few seconds you lose everything, and you're fighting to stay in the race."
Although the team was supporting Konig for a high placing in the Tour, they allowed a few riders to stay with Machado and make sure he made it to the finish. "The last part of the Tour was just fighting to finish the stage. I'm not used to that. Luckily I had some friends to stay with me like [Jose] Mendes, we did it and we arrived in Paris. It was a relief. I was really happy to finish there. We learned another kind of cycling. To ride in the gruppetto is not easy, you take a lot of risks on the down hills."
Sporting deep scars on his left elbow and knee, the 28-year-old still feels the pain from that crash, but is still ambitious for the rest of the season.
The three-time Portuguese time trial champion is looking ahead not just to the mountain stages in Colorado, but to the Vail time trial to get a result, and a little bit of revenge for the Tour de France where, to add insult to injury, he punctured during the stage 20 time trial.
"I'll do my best like I do in all time trials. Normally if my condition is good and I have good luck, maybe I can fight for the stage win."