Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge.
Welcome back to another stunning day in Colorado. We're on for the big stage of the race this year - the 165.6km race from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek.
Riders have already taken off for their 6km neutral lap in Steamboat Springs under cloudy skies, cool temperatures around 70F.
The peloton was led out by a real cowboy on horseback, but he pulled off quickly. No bike vs. horse race today. There are lots of fans lining the roads in the start town. Colorado has really come out in force to support the race.
Today's stage starts on some difficult terrain, not a big climb like Independence Pass, but lots of little climbs peppered throughout the first half of the stage. There are three category 4 climbs, but the big one will be Bachelor Gulch at 11.7km to go, followed by an uphill finish to Beaver Creek.
There are a few cattle grates for the peloton to negotiate today, and a railroad crossing. The grates have been covered so as to not catch wheels, but the railroad? Well we hope the trains run on time.
Our only DNS of the day is UHC's Kiel Reijnen. He was involved in the crash at the finish of yesterday's stage, and he was too injured to go on. Mike Friedman (Optum) who lost a lot of skin on his back and right shoulder, is stlll in the race.
Friedman started wrapped up like a mummy with ace bandages around his chest - it will be an uncomfortable day for the affable American.
The race officials drop the white flag - the race is on! The speed quickly picks up to 40mph.
As is the case most days, the attacks fly from the gun. Everyone is keen to get out there and represent for their team. But who do we have up there? None other than Tour de France champions Chris Froome and Andy Schleck!
Kirk Carlsen (Bissell) goes after the pair and after some effort, makes the bridge.
Kevin De Mesmaeker (Team Novo Nordisk) is also trying to get across on the narrow, 2-lane road. They're speeding up and over the rolling terrain as if it was a flat road.
The Belgian was unable to make the bridge, but no matter, the breakaway was caught and new attacks fly.
Apparently Reijnen wasn't the only DNS, three others didn't sign on today: Fabio Sabatini (Cannondale), Michael Torckler (Bissell) and Alex Candelario (Optum) also pulled the plug.
There's a new attack in the land of giant hay bales: 10 riders have a slight advantage.
It's actually 9 riders with 10 seconds up the road at this point in the race. They will have to be warned: there is a herd of 100 cattle in the road about 8 miles ahead. That's not something you have every day in a bike race! The ranchers are trying to get them off the road. But you know how cows are...
I suppose if you're planning to turn a creature into dinner, you really can't expect it to be accommodating to you...
Looks like Danny Pate held to his promise to go in a breakaway this week. The former Colorado resident is up there with 8 others: Andreas Kloden (RadioShack), Larry Warbasse (BMC), Jones (not sure if it's Chris or Carter?), Luis Amaran (Jamis) and KOM leader Matt Cooke, Simon Geschke (Argos), Nic Hamilton (Jelly Belly) and Anders Lund (Saxo-Tinkoff).
Looks like it's Chris Jones of UnitedHealthcare up there in a group that has 20 seconds.
154km remaining from 165km
Klöden has dropped off the back of this group. And we're hearing the cowboys have wrangled their cattle off the road. Phew!
150km remaining from 165km
It's a long, fast stretch of road and the current descent has the peloton at 50mph. It was such a fast start that there are already riders struggling in the caravan. The altitude can really take it out of you.
Some riders have left the break, and the speed has allowed others to join them, so there is a new group up the road with Saxo-Tinkoff putting both Timmy Duggan and Mick Rogers in there with Pate, his teammate Siutsou, Tony Gallopin (RadioShack), Warbasse, Davide Villella (Cannondale - again!), Cooke and Tvetcov (again!).
The yellow jersey has signaled for a nature break, which means this group should be allowed to go for broke.
Jason McCartney (Bissell) is attempting to bridge to the leaders, but he's stuck in no-man's land as the peloton is 1:45 behind our leaders, but only 30" behind him.
Oh dear, McCartney has had to stop with a mechanical. That's not going to help him get across to the breakaway! The gap to the leaders is approaching 2 minutes as they power along past the endless fields of grass.
140km remaining from 165km
Hard to believe we've only been going for 25km with all this action.
By all accounts J-Mac is making up ground again, he's at 45 seconds to the field, but the break is at 2:55.
Villella may as well be given a frequent flyer card, because he's been in the moves every single stage of this race so far.
The first KOM of the race comes 35.8km into the stage, and we expect Cooke will be given free reign to go for the mountain points to pad his lead in that competition.
The other points of note: The sprint in Oak Creek at km 44.7, then climbs at 81.4 and 113.7km on highway 131.
The kicker of the race comes at 153.9 with the category 1 Bachelor Gulch, then the uphill finish after 165.6km in Beaver Creek.
135km remaining from 165km
Gallopin is our best-placed rider in the breakaway, and at 41 seconds from Morton, he's also our "virtual leader". He got the biggest win of his career in the Clasica San Sebastian last month.
After his lengthy, mechanical-interrupted chase, McCartney has got the break in his sights. The cars are being pulled out of his way so as to not give unfair advantage.
First it was cattle, now it's a rattlesnake on the road that has spooked the race officials. Luckily they've got a snake charmer and have managed to get the poisonous beast out of the riders' way.
Well as we head deep into the communication wastelands of Colorado, let's see who might be our contenders for today's uphill finish?
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) is just 11 seconds behind Sagan on GC and is confident of his chances of winning the race.
UnitedHealthcare's Lucas Euser told Cyclingnews this morning he's ridden Bachelor Gulch five times during the recon, and said that being familiar with the climb will be important. "Phil Deignan and I are both feeling good, but we lost Kiel."
Euser went down in the crash as well. "I went ass over teakettle as they say, but I landed on a nice, soft body, tucked and rolled, and came away relatively unscathed, nothing that will bother me today."
The UHC train were behind Optum, who was following Cannondale, when one of the riders hit a spectator, causing the crash.
It's important to remind all of the fans - stay clear of the road!
The mountains leader Matt Cooke (Jamis) has added to his lead: he took the first KOM over Davide Villella, Timmy Duggan and Michael Rogers.
Sorry for any confusion on my earlier, incorrect mention of race leader Sagan. Of course Morton is our race leader, but two seconds over Mathias Frank (BMC). Sagan is on the same time as van Garderen, but if he challenges for the race lead today it would be a very big surprise!
Our breakaway should be coming up to the first and only intermediate sprint of the day. Gallopin is also the highest of the break in the points classification, but is 30 points in arrears of Sagan.
121km remaining from 165km
McCartney still has not managed to make it up to the breakaway, according to the tour tracker. He's dangling 40 seconds behind, while the break's lead has blossomed to 4:15.
The break has made it through the sprint line in Oak Creek, where the entire population of this tiny town has come out to see the race.
McCartney was actually nearing the break a while back, but had to stop for a second bike change, but he survived all the drama and has made the bridge.
The breakaway has had to negotiate not only cattle guards which pepper the vast open ranch lands, but also numerous railroad crossings. The road they are on crosses back and forth as it parallels the tracks going north. Luckily everyone has gone over without incident, as far as we know.
Garmin is controlling the head of the peloton, keeping the breakaway at 4-5 minutes. Tom Danielson is looking forward to the end of today's stage. He told Cyclingnews this morning: "Every day isn't straight forwrad, and today there is more of the same. The climb at the end is very selective."
He expects plenty of competition: "Tejay rode away from me into Breckenridge, so it should be interesting."
1 Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Sky Procycling
2 Lawrence Warbasse (USA) BMC Racing Team
3 Timothy Duggan (USA) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
We have some more information on that rattlesnake. His name was Jake, he is 3, loves long wiggles through the grass... no, seriously, the thing was four feet long and the marshalls were debating what to do with it. They opted to get a big stick and fling it off the road rather than shoot it.
Tejay van Garderen is really hot to win the overall here in Colorado: "We've been up there every stage so far, and maybe we're a little greedy, but we want to take it all home", he told Cyclingnews.
106km remaining from 165km
The breakaway is speeding through Yampa, which is population 443. The breakaway is holding 4:25 as they ride past a group of school children cheering in high-pitched screeches.
We've heard Jeremy Vennell (Bissell) has abandoned. He crashed hard on the descent from Independence Pass the other day.
It's still status quo for our breakaway and peloton, the four-minute gap undulating as slightly as the ranch road. The pavement is pretty rough, making for a bumpy day in the saddle.
Luckily the clouds seem to be lifting and we're told there is sunshine at the finish in Beaver Creek.
We are really sorry to hear that Tom Boonen (OPQS) has had to call an end to his season. He's had a very rough year, beginning with a severe case of food poisoning, followed by an infected wound in his elbow, the flu, crashes and more dramas, but the latest thing to cause trouble? A saddle sore. More specifically, a perineal cyst. Most people don't have to talk about their tender bits to the media. Boonen has gotten over being shy.
It's another day of racing down the seemingly endless road through desolate ranch land, where the horizon never seems to come. It brings to mind "White Line Fever" by Motorhead, but we suspect the folks in these parts would rather listen to the song of the same name by Merle Haggard.
87km remaining from 165km
It's feed zone time for the peloton, the gap to the breakaway is up to 4:40. Up ahead, the breakaway is on the second climb of the day on highway 131. it's only a category 4 climb.
83km remaining from 165km
The breakaway is just over 1km to the second KOM of the day, and are working well together to keep their 4:35 advantage over the field.
Looks like the gentlemen in the breakaway are happy to let Cooke get the points. He's won the second KOM ahead of Pate, Tvetcov and Gallopin.
We're over the hump, literally and figuratively. The halfway point of the stage is behind us, and now the leaders get to enjoy a gentle descent for the next 20km or so. That should speed things along.
This descent isn't helping our 10-man move, they've lost ground and are leading by 3:55, the first dip under four minutes in a long time.
It's good to see Duggan up in the breakaway, riding well. He seemed to have gotten caught up in that crash yesterday - he was awarded the same time as the stage winner Sagan. He doesn't seem to be worse for the wear, which is a relief since he's already had to recuperate from a broken leg sustained at the Tour Down Under this year.
The breakaway has passed through Bond, James Bond... I mean, Bond, Colorado. It's a quaint place with a view of the hills with nothing more than a post office to note.
The wind has appeared to have gone out of the sails of our breakaway: the gap to the peloton is down to 2:55 as they reach the valley floor. They'll have a longer climb to the next category 4 climb, though it's not very steep.
Hopefully the peloton will traverse the train tracks, which go diagonally across the road, in Bond, without incident.
The impetus is flagging in the breakaway - the gap is 2:35, as the teams know the TV coverage is about to begin and they want to make things exciting. Once they crest the next KOM it's still 40km to the top of Bachelor Gulch.
60km remaining from 165km
Siutsou senses the break is doomed and attacks.
Siutsou's move inspired some others to come across: he's got Gallopin, Warbasse, Rogers and Villella with him, while the rest are chasing about 40 seconds.
The peloton is seeing 5km to the top of the third KOM, and taking the climb easy - the gap is now back up to 4:05 to the leaders.
Gallopin appears to be the most motivated of our new break of five. He leads up to the KOM line, 200m to go to the top.
51km remaining from 165km
Old friends Danny Pate and Jason McCartney are being reabsorbed by the Garmin-led peloton.
Duggan, Tvetcov and Cooke are trailing by 40 seconds, and they have a gentle descent to help push along.
KOM 3: Gallopin led across with Siutsou, Rogers and Warbasse behind. Cooke gets no points, but will be satisfied with his work today.
Rogers pulls the stage guide out of his pocket for a peak at what's ahead. A big mountain, Mick, a big mountain. They still have a 40km hammer across the valley to get there.
Scratch that, 25km or so until they get to the climb.
Garmin Sharp has the peloton lined out single file, and they're keeping the break pegged at 4:00. The three chasers can't seem to make up any ground, they've lost another 10 seconds, now at 0:50.
Duggan lost contact with the chase and now it's just Tvetcov and Cooke in pursuit of the five ahead. Bissell has a rider down - not sure who just yet.
Gallopin is making Garmin earn their salaries today. They're having to do quite a lot of work to bring this gap down.
40km remaining from 165km
The breakaway is hurtling down a short, fast descent with just over 40km to go, they all catch air on a bump in the road, but they're pros - they stay upright.
While Rogers won't challenge for the GC - he's over 6 minutes behind Morton - he could be a good bet for the stage win if he has a lead going into Bachelor Gulch. He's a good climber and no slouch on the descents, either.
Now the peloton goes through the 40km to go railroad crossing and there's lots of bunny hopping going on. They're flying!
BMC is tucked in behind race leader Lachlan Morton, hoping to put van Garderen in the race lead tonight.
34km remaining from 165km
Siutsou takes a big pull in the breakaway, and behind them it seems that the Pro Cont and Continental teams have decided to lend a hand to Garmin. Jamis and UHC have come to the front.
So sorry to hear Chris Baldwin (Bissell) has crashed and is going to the hospital. We hope he is not seriously injured.
BMC has now decided that the gap needs to come down faster than Garmin was making it drop - they put a man up there and it's at 3:10 with 31km to go. Tvetcov and Cooke have been caught.
Gallopin gets another visit from the RadioShack team car - they are feeling confident that he has both the cooperation of his four companions and the ability to contend for the overall race lead. He's just 41 seconds behind Morton, currently holding a 3:05 lead on the peloton.
27km remaining from 165km
The one thing that could spoil the aspirations of Gallopin is the race for the mountains jersey. Though Jamis has both top spots in the Mountains classification, and Cooke has a 18 point lead over Morton, they are working hard with BMC to reduce the gap.
It's down to 2:55.
We can't forget about Mathias Frank, either. He won stages and led the Tour of Austria earlier this year, so he's obviously comfortable in the mountains. And with a brand new contract with IAM Cycling he'll be keen to impress.
The Colombians can smell a mountain ahead and have surged to the front of the peloton.
We're being told there is a light rain falling in Beaver Creek at the finish. That could make the technical descent from Bachelor Gulch more dangerous.
23km remaining from 165km
Garmin and BMC are controlling the front of the peloton, now 2:20 behind the leaders - they are on a false flat leading into the climb and there is pressure to get into position. Lots of shuffling in the bunch.
20km remaining from 165km
The leaders are on the climb, and already there are lines of fans. They pass the 20km to go sign.
The peloton is also on the climb proper, having made the turn from US 6.
It looks like Peter Sagan isn't intending to go for another stage today, he and his team have disappeared from view.
Up ahead, Gallopin continues to drive the pace on the climb with Rogers behind. 1:50 only to the bunch.
There is a gruppetto of large proportions being formed behind the lead peloton. The caravan is coming by and the sprinters' group is barely moving on the climb.
The Colombians come to the front of the yellow jersey group and jerk the pace.
Rogers attacks the breakaway!
It's Warbasse who follows, while Gallopin and Villella are flailing. Siutsou is missing in action.
The peloton is closing in - 1:05 to the yellow jersey group as Rogers and Warbasse ride about 10m ahead of Gallopin and Villella.
The yellow jersey group is seeing 5km to the KOM.
Last year's winner Christian Vande Velde swings off, having used up his chances at a repeat to work for Morton and Tom Danielson.
15km remaining from 165km
Morton now comes to the front to set the pace. It's all in for Danielson. He's got the Swiss champion Schar on his wheel.
As we tackle the final 5km of this climb, it's Rogers out front alone. Warbasse lost contact with the Australian. Behind is Gallopin and Villella, but the peloton is closing.
Morton is dropped!!
There are only eight riders left in the group with Danielson leading.
Janier Acevedo attacks.
The roads are wet on the climb, Danielson is on his own but BMC has two still in the move.
Acevedo is caught, and now a BMC rider fades away off the front. There are two with van Garderen.
Rogers leads this group by 30 seconds according to the tracker.
There is a brief cease fire in the group of van Garderen. The others know his BMC team is too strong.
They also know this isn't the final climb - there is still a kicker to the ski resort at the finish, and we're at 3000m altitude so they must be conservative.
Caruso is dropped from the van Garderen group.
Warbasse and Josh Edmondson are just behind him. van Garderen has lost one helper, and now it's only Mathias Frank, van Garderen, Danielson and Acevedo catching Rogers.
This is going to be touch and go on the descent. There will be five together... or will there? Danielson ups the pace.
Our first group is now Danielson, van Garderen, Acevedo, with Frank and Rogers hanging on. Actually, scratch that, Rogers is getting dropped.
It looks like Danielson, van Garderen and Acevedo will be the leaders over the top.
Meanwhile, Lachlan Morton is way back in a group five minutes down the road, according to the tracker.
From the top it will be 11.7km, most of which is downhill, followed by a short-ish climb to the line.
12km remaining from 165km
Frank is fighting hard to stay within contact, he knows if he can just keep close he might be able to catch up on the descent. Danielson sees 1km to the top.
Acevedo won a similar stage at Tour of Utah by hurtling down a descent. But he's just 30 seconds down on van Garderen, so the American't can't afford to descend conservatively. We know the Jamis rider is ready to go for broke.
Caruso and Edmondson are the next riders on the road. The Morton group is really only 45 seconds behind, the previous graphics being grossly inaccurate.
Danielson leads over the top with van Garderen and Acevedo in second and third.
As predicted, Acevedo takes off on the descent.
We have a counter attack from Lucas Euser who is followed by Morton over the top. They have Caruso, Edmondson, Atapuma and Jones along.
Danielson is not enjoying this decent. van Garderen has actually taken over the lead from Acevedo and they've distanced the Garmin rider.
Danielson has admitted to having confidence problems on the bike from time to time, and it's an unfortunate moment to have self-doubt.
The Morton group is 40 seconds behind, and we know the Australian can go downhill fast, literally, not figuratively.
Danielson is keeping the pair ahead to five seconds. It's quite wet on the descent, and it's riddled with sweeping switchbacks.
All of the fans must be at the finish, and thankfully none are trying to run along side on the descent. That would require Usain Bolt-like speed. They're bombing this descent.
Acevedo pulled ahead of van Garderen, there is no pedaling going on, they're just taking advantage of gravity's sweet pull.
Kudos go out to our camera moto and video moto drivers. It's not easy filming a race like this, especially in the rain.
The Morton group has grown to eight, still at 40" by last check.
Frank has joined Danielson on the descent.
5km remaining from 165km
Just under 6km to go for our leaders.
The leaders are on flatter roads now, heading up toward the finish at Beaver Creek. Acevedo lets van Garderen come through and do the work now that they're going up.
They only have 5 seconds on Danielson and Frank, and van Garderen has to ask himself: do I wait for my teammate or keep Danielson at bay?
3km remaining from 165km
Acevedo pulls now, the crowds are beginning to get bigger as we get closer in.
The new gap to Danielson and Frank is 20 seconds.
3km remaining from 165km
Danielson is being forced to decide for himself: do I drag a teammate to van Garderen? He has no choice. He can only hope to attack him and bridge across as the climb kicks up more.
Euser, Caruso, Atapuma, Morton et al are 1:20 behind.
Acevedo is working with van Garderen, looks like he'll get a stage if he keeps it up.
2km remaining from 165km
Just outside 2km to go and van Garderen is now pulling, he says something to Acevedo... making bargains is common at this point. Keep working and you get the stage, Janier.
Did Garmin make a mistake in working so hard to protect the lead of Lachlan Morton? They now have no resources to help Danielson. He's 30" down now.
The Morton group has grown again.
1km remaining from 165km
The leading duo are big-ringing this climb, in the saddle, hands on the hoods, each doing his turn.
Acevedo's goal here was to get a third UCI stage race podium, and he's certainly moved into a good position. He's third overall now, virtually.
1km remaining from 165km
For once, it seems appropriate to see fans in speedos, since the rain is pounding down.
The leaders have made it to the barricaded section of the finale - maybe 500m to the line.
van Garderen leads Acevedo, then allows the Jamis man to come through. The rain is just pounding them.
van Garderen is riding into the yellow jersey - Acevedo leading to the line.
Acevedo gets out of the saddle to "sprint" for 10m then wins!
van Garderen gets the yellow jersey... but where's Danielson?
Danielson is helped across the line - we didn't catch the time gap but it's at lest 20 seconds.
Chad Beyer (Champion System) finished in a good spot - we missed a few riders in no-man's land.
Just for drama's sake, the sun comes out as the rest of the riders struggle to the line.
It was Frank who finished third on the stage, ahead of Danielson, who lost 22 seconds. Gregory Brenes was the Champion System rider in fifth at 1:07, not Beyer.
Caruso led the chase group home ahead of Edmondson, Morton, Schar and Atapuma.
1 Janier Acevedo (Col) Jamis-Hagens Berman 4:09:08
2 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
3 Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:00:13
4 Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:22
5 Gregory Brenes (Crc) Champion System 0:01:07
6 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:01:28
7 Joshua Edmondson (GBr) Sky Procycling
8 Lachlan David Morton (Aus) Garmin-Sharp
9 Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team
10 Darwin Atapuma (Col) Colombia
Michael Rogers gets the most aggressive rider jersey for his troubles today.
Van Garderen leads Frank in the GC by 4 seconds, with Acevedo in third, 30 seconds off the lead. Danielson is at 40 seconds, with Morton in fifth at 1:17.
General classification after stage 4
1 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 15:44:59
2 Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:00:04
3 Janier Acevedo (Col) Jamis-Hagens Berman 0:00:30
4 Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:40
5 Lachlan David Morton (Aus) Garmin-Sharp 0:01:17
6 Gregory Brenes (Crc) Champion System 0:01:37
7 Darwin Atapuma (Col) Colombia 0:01:52
8 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:01:58
9 Rory Sutherland (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
10 Lucas Euser (USA) UnitedHealthcare
And with that we conclude another day of live coverage. Tune in tomorrow for the Vail time trial where van Garderen will hope to slay the demons of prior years.
Kirsten Frattini will be our special guest commentator for the next three stages.
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