The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge provided the US-based Continental teams a unique opportunity to test themselves against eight ProTour squads, highlighted by the presence of the 2011 Tour de France podium of Cadel Evans (BMC) plus Andy and Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek). Chris Baldwin (Bissell) finished 14th overall, 2:38 down on winner Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) and just 21 seconds behind Fränk Schleck, as the highest-placed rider of the US Continental team contingent.
The 35-year-old Boulder, Colorado resident spoke to Cyclingnews moments after crossing the finish line of the final stage in Denver and was effusive in his praise of the event.
"It exceeded any expectations that I could have had for my home state race, and I'm just ecstatic that it happened. I just want to thank the whole state for coming out."
The race was a huge priority for Baldwin, who for the first time in his career could compete in a world-class stage race in his home state.
"You have an extra gear on the bike," said Baldwin, about the additional motivation and energy from racing at home. "I rode the best I have in years this week. I think it's just due to coming out of my skin every day for being on roads I know. Having the Schleck brothers, Cadel Evans and Levi [Leipheimer] racing on my training routes, I feel very lucky."
Baldwin's goal was a top-15 finish, and during the interview it wasn't yet known that his 16th place on GC entering the final stage would be upped to 14th overall. Two riders ahead of him were gapped out in the endgame of stage 6 and dropped below Baldwin on GC.
Baldwin, a two-time national time trial champion and an experienced domestic professional, was slated to race the 2011 season for the V Australia Continental team, but that fell through as the team made room for several riders absorbed from the failed Pegausus Sport ProTeam. Baldwin began the season as an amateur, but was able to return to the professional ranks when he was signed by Bissell in April.
In addition to Baldwin's 14th place GC finish, Bissell's Frank Pipp finished fifth on the final stage while Jay Thomson was on the attack for nearly the entire duration of stage 1 from Salida to Crested Butte.
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