The USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado just got a bit confusing, and a pending protest over the time split, or lack thereof, awarded to BMC Racing Team's Tejay van Garderen and Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde after the stage 2 finish in Crested Butte could shake up the overall race lead one more time.
BMC had a rough day in the saddle during Wednesday's stage 3 from Gunnison to Aspen. The riders from Garmin-Sharp went out on the attack early - as they have everyday - putting Tom Danielson and Dave Zabriske into a dangerous breakaway that eventually launched Danielson to a solo win by just two seconds over a fast-closing chase.
But the real kicker came when Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde, who started the day second overall but with the same time as van Garderen, won back the yellow jersey by finishing three places in front of the BMC team leader during the sprint from a select chase group of 26 riders.
Both Vande Velde and van Garderen finished with the same time, forcing officials to go to the third tie-breaker to determine the race leader. Because the sum of both riders' stage placings so far totalled 30 points, officials relied on the latest stage placing in Aspen to determine the overall leader, putting Vande Velde back into the jersey he had lost to van Garderen the day before in Crested Butte when the pair finished first and second with the same time.
BMC, however, has filed a protest over the Crested Butte results, alleging there was a clear two- or three-second time gap between stage winner van Garderen and runner-up Vande Velde.
"On stage 2 there was very clear split," said BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz. "Everyone saw it on TV; it was very clear. And today they give a time split in a group coming across the line like this group. It wasn't a field sprint."
BMC team director Michael Sayers said he filed a protest regarding the results of stage 2. Sayers said officials told him they would review the result and issue a ruling Thursday. But as of Wednesday evening, Vande Velde was the rider who returned to the team hotel in Aspen with the yellow jersey on his back. Van Garderen, meanwhile, remained resolute.
"Yes, I am disappointed," van Garderen said. "But this gives me a little extra motivation for the upcoming days. I don't see anything really changing in the dynamics of the race. It's still going to come down to the time trial on Sunday in Denver."
The frustration among BMC management was apparent in the team parking lot after the race, and Sayers aimed his anger squarely at ProTour rival RadioShack-Nissan, who he said has been playing possum all week.
"I think they forgot that the women's race is later in the week," Sayers said, referring to the women's criterium that actually ran in downtown Aspen Wednesday before the men raced into town for their finish. "I don't understand why they're not going for stage wins. I don't expect anybody to help my team, but I don't understand why, when you have six riders in the front group, that you won't even pull, and then you start attacking to get the stage win.
"I mean you have six riders," Sayers continued. "You can't win if you don't bring the leader back, so bring the leader back and then attack. But hey, they do their race, I do my race. It's upsetting, but they do their race, and I do my race."
Mathias Frank, who Sayers tapped as the hero of the race for BMC because of his yeoman's work on the front for van Garderen, also felt the frustration of getting little to no help during the chase of the breakaway and eventually of a solo Danielson.
"I wasn't really surprised," he said. "The way it's been going these past three days is everyone against everyone. I expected RadioShack to ride; it would be in their interest. But they didn't ride the first day, they didn't ride yesterday, so why should they ride today?"
Ochowicz also had a few choice words for RadioShack-Nissan, questioning why they didn't try for a stage win when they had a handful of riders in the front group coming off the category 1 climb of Independence Pass and the long descent into Aspen.
"At that point, if I didn't think I could win this [overall] race, that was a great [stage] to win," Ochowicz said. "It was easy to win. You had the group coming down the hill, and there were teams with three, four, five riders. All you had to do was chase a little bit and you would catch Danielson. You had a chance to win the stage. You gave it up."
When he was told that RadioShack-Nissan team director Alain Gallopin said after stage 2 that is was BMC's job to control the race, pure and simple, Ochowicz replied succinctly.
"That's fine," he said. "That's good for him."
Cyclingnews' Peter Hymas contributed to this report.
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.