With less than handful of stages left in his career, Trek Factory Racing's Jens Voigt was ready to make a big splash Thursday during stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado Springs, but the 42-year-old German rider came up about 1km short in his quest for one last stage win.
"Already in the team meeting this morning on our bus, I made it pretty clear that, yeah, I'm ready and I'm willing to go today," Voigt said. "The short vicious stage today was made for me. It was hard, but it was not a killer climb. So it was good for me."
The 113km circuit race in Colorado Springs included four trips up the 17 percent grade of Ridge Road in the Garden of the Gods before circling back through downtown. Voigt escaped with 11 other riders early in the first stage and then set out on his own about halfway through the third lap.
He had an advantage of nearly three minutes over the field at one point, but a hard chase from domestic teams like Optum Pro Cycling, UnitedHealthcare and Hincapie Development brought him back into the fold before Cannondale's Elia Viviani took the win and grabbed the glory at the finish. A lack of chasing from the WorldTour teams caused speculation that maybe Voigt would be gifted the stage, but as Voigt himself said: there's no such thing in cycling.
"I would like it if they just said, 'You know what, Jensie is out there all alone, just give it to him,'" the popular German rider said at the post-race press conference. "But there's no such thing in cycling. It's a tough sport."
The terrain and route of this year's USA Pro Challenge ultimately played against Voigt, who went into Thursday's stage sitting 23rd overall, nearly 12 minutes down. But a lack of opportunities this year for the sprinters in Colorado meant the teams of the fastmen, especially from the US Coninental and Pro Continental squads, had marked a big red X on the day.
"We would have been happy to give Jens the win," race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC) told Cyclingnews after the stage. "He's not in there for GC, so we were happy to let the break stay away. The closest guy was at seven minutes, but the sprinters' teams, they don't have too many opportunities here, so they weren't going to let that pass. I feel bad for Jens. It would have been nice for him to get the victory, but that's how it goes."
Michael Schär, van Garderen's teammate, agreed with the BMC leader.
"Well this is racing, and for a lot of teams this was the only chance for a sprint," Schär said. "It's a really hard USA Pro Challenge. There is pretty much no day for the sprinters, and there are a lot of American teams that have good sprinters, so they tried hard. Also Cannondale tried hard for the sprint. For us, we didn't want to catch Jensie. We just go for the GC, but we cannot say a gift or not. It's just racing."
Optum's Tom Zirbel, the former US pro time trial champion who committed mightily to the chase, said personalities never had any influence on his team's game plan.
"It's not personal," Zirbel said of denying Voigt a final hurrah. "We just wanted to win the bike race, and this is one of the stages we picked out. It was a good one for Ryan [Anderson], and we have to give him a shot. Cannondale didn't do as much as you would think. I thought it was their race to control. But they won the bike race, so they did it right. We felt it was on us because we wanted a bunch sprint and we weren't in the break, so we put guys up there immediately, and same with UHC."
Zirbel expressed doubt as to whether the WorldTour teams were content to sit in the bunch because they wanted to see Voigt win, but he didn't rule it out.
"That could have been in play," he said. "A lot of these teams just had GC in mind, so they didn't have a real sprinter. I think that was more in play, but maybe there was some brotherhood going on out there. But we were there to win the bike race."
Lucas Euser, the UnitedHealthcare rider who is currently 4:10 down in 17th overall, agreed that the tactics and the terrain weren't conducive for a breakaway to stick, especially for a solo rider.
"You could tell the last 3km were pretty wide open and windy, and especially with that last little roller with 2km to go, it was going to be hard to stay away solo," Euser said. "Jens is an amazing rider. He fights so hard and it's so cool to watch, and he was almost there. You know, I'm sure he's 100 percent OK with it. He's probably going to be a little upset, but that's what he does and that's why he's the personality and the star that he is."