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USA Pro Challenge 2014: Stage 1

Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.

Welcome to beautiful Aspen, Colorado, tucked in the midst of the towering Rocky Mountains, below what is normally ski resorts but is currently a bird's eye view of the USA Pro Challenge.

The riders have just taken off for the first stage, a 98km, three-laps of a challenging and tricky circuit starting and ending in Aspen.

Riders have a 7km of neutral riding before the gloves come off. Everything is at stake on this first stage: first leader's jersey, first KOM jersey, first sprint jersey and the new Colorado rider's jersey in addition to best young rider and stage winner.

This week is a send-off for Jens Voigt. The fan-favorite is retiring on Sunday.

Everyone is walking around in Jens Voigt t-shirts, they're black will shiny silver paint.

The field here in Colorado is a bit unusual - the crazy Tour de France reshuffled a lot of teams' goals, and some like Sky are now focussing on the Vuelta. The result is there are only five WorldTour teams, and four Pro Continental teams, the rest are Continental teams. It's a bit more wide-open for the stages than usual.

There is no Peter Sagan this year, so the bunch sprints will be the focus for several teams. Todays' stage has four tough little climbs, but should end in a select bunch sprint. The fastest guy is probably Elia Viviani, who will look to continue Sagan's tradition of winning here.

The riders are off for the race proper - heading out of Aspen.

The first point of contention today will be at km 31.6, when they hit the first sprint of the day here in Aspen. First, however, they have to climb up to Snowmass Village, then barrel down, head up McClain Flats and speed back into Aspen. There are no mountain points on the first lap.

Of course the attacks started very early - there is one rider off the front with a slight advantage. Could it be ... Jens? We will find out.

The skies are currently blue but peppered with fluffy white clouds, and it's a pleasant summer day in Aspen. Just a light breeze. There is a chance of a shower, and it could make things a bit dicey out there.

There are two turns in particular that are very fast, the first is a left turn before the first KOM in Snowmass, and then another one turning on the descent after that climb.

92km remaining from 98km

Our breakaway rider is Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare), currently solo with 10 seconds.

Summerhill has been riding very well this year for UnitedHealthcare. The peloton is not looking too keen to chase him down, as he's not seen as a threat to riders like Tejay van Garderen (BMC), our defending champion.

Summerhill is getting some help, however, four riders have bridged across.

It's Summerhill, Josh Berry (SmartStop), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis), Jonathan Freter (Jelly Belly) and Gregory Daniel (Bissell)

The Continental teams are taking an aggressive start. Three more riders have bridged across: Lachlan Norris (Drapac), Matt Cooke (Jamis) and Luis Enrique Davila (Jelly Belly) made it.

Davila is trying to inspire the breakaway to work harder, but he's not getting any help. He slides off the front and gives a wave, like, come on!

Jamis directeur Sebastian Alexandre told Cyclingnews today that the team is here only for stage wins and minor classifications. They don't have a true GC rider or sprinter, and want to be in breakaways.

Interesting that Lachlan Norris (Drapac) is in the breakaway. He's one of the team's GC riders. He was 10th at the Tour of Utah and has been climbing very well. It might be a gamble to put such a heavy bet down on the opening hand.

84km remaining from 98km

Sorry, we always get Luis Lemus Davila's name wrong, of course he goes by the surname Lemus in the short form. He's a three-time Mexican National Champion.

The break has 1:15 now, and on the descent, which is helping the peloton.

Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) had to fight his way back to the bunch and gave a big sigh. The fatigue from the Giro and Tour clearly showing, but he can relax, he signed a new two-year contract with his team. We'll have more on that later today.

It's a beautiful area where the peloton is speeding along - the valley has a mix of finely manicured golf courses, horse farms, and the hills are criss-crossed with hiking, mountain biking and snowmobile trails, and of course, the ski runs.

The eight riders are motoring along, heading up the McClain flats climb and have 1:30, the crowds are pretty thick along the climb. Will they survive to fight for the first points sprint back in Aspen?

Josh Berry (SmartStop) is leading the breakaway up the climb. He's a good climber, was second in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but has been struggling to get back to top form after being hit by a car a couple years ago. He's looking good at the moment.

The hardest part of the USA Pro Challenge is the altitude, and some of our breakaway riders seem to be suffering. We have Cooke, Summerhilll, Norris and Lemus getting an advantage over the other four up front.

The gap has gone up enough that team cars are being allowed to go forward to the eight riders in the breakaway, so it's looking good for them in the short-term at least.

The eight riders up front have come back together, as they take a little time to refuel from the cars. The peloton behind is starting to get interested in keeping the gap at a minimum. None of the WorldTour teams bothered to get into the breakaway, and can easily pull this back.

Cannondale must be very interested in the stage win with Viviani, as they have taken all of the responsibility for chasing. The gap is 1:35.

SmartStop has been racing very well under the tutelage of Mike Creed this year. With Berry in the breakaway, they don't have to chase, and can save their riders to help Jure Kocjan get his revenge. The Slovenian wore the leader's jersey in Tour of Utah and was a frustrated second on three stages. He wants to win today, but the team also has US Pro Champion Eric Marcotte and Travis McCabe, who are both capable on a stage like this.

Importantly, Smartstop don't have to chase, while Optum, who came up with a great win in Utah with Eric Young, had to burn a lot of riders up to get him that victory. They didn't want to have to do that again today.

We spoke with Optum director Jonas Carney today, and he said they came with more of a GC team, backing Carter Jones who was 7th in Utah, and 11th here last year. But they do have Mike Friedman, Alex Candelario and sprinter Ryan Anderson here.

And, we jinxed Berry, he's been dropped from the breakaway and picked up by the field. Now the breakaway's lead has also dropped to 55 seconds.

The leaders are seven now, and are heading back into Aspen for the first intermediate sprint. There is one minute between them and the field.

On the line is 5, 3 and 1 points, they have 500m to go to the sprint. Summerhill takes off.

Lemus goes after him, but the points are going to Summerhill in Aspen. He'll wait for the rest of the breakaway riders.

Gregory Daniel took the final point in Aspen, but the team cars are being pulled from the gap behind the seven remaining breakaway riders.

What is on the line today besides prestige? Well, $3615.00US for the stage winner, and $362.71 for the leaders of each jersey classification.

This includes the new Best Colorado Rider jersey, which will be contested between any rider who has lived in the state for 180 days this past year.

Correction, that's €3615 for the stage winner, but $4983.28 in the local currency. $500 for the jersey leaders.

The peloton has two more laps of the circuit, and Cannondale is still leading the chase. The gap has fallen to 45 seconds thanks to the Italian/American team.

Beginning to think that Ben Jacques-Maynes gets into the breakaways at these races only to test the television announcers on the pronunciation of his name. It's JAHks-main,

The breakaway might get a bit of a boost because the feeding has opened from the team cars. Summerhill goes back to the UHC car while it's still there.

As we predicted, the gap went back up, now 1:20 for our seven remaining breakaway riders, reminding you they are Danny Summerhill (UHC), Ben Jacques-Maynes and Matt Cooke (Jamis), Jonathan Freter and Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly), Gregory Daniel (Bissell), and Lachlan Norris (Drapac).

We're really happy to have the Drapac team on American soil - it's almost like the band is all back together from the old Fly V Australia days. The DS here is Henk Vogels, who spent a lot of time racing stateside, and Jonathan Cantwell, Jai Crawford, and the Sulzbergers have spent time here. Their old teammate Ben Day is here with UnitedHealthcare.

We've also got some great young talent at the race this year: the Bissell Devo, Hincapie Sportswear Devo and Rapha-Condor teams have some great young riders here. Keegan Swirbul, the rider who beat Lance Armstrong at a mountain bike race is on Bissell, and he climbs very well at altitude. Kiwi James Oram is looking for results after being injured earlier this year.

The breakaway is nearing the first mountain points, the category 4 Snowmass sprint. It's a long drag up, then a flat section with a kicker at the end.

The leaders have 40 seconds, but the peloton is in the feed zone, and that's always distracting for the chase.

The fight for the KOM will likely go to the breakaway for now - the peloton has let the gap go out some and the breakaway is hurtling down the descent after the feed zone before they begin the Snowmass climb. 1:25 for the leaders.

55km remaining from 98km

A lot of riders have only been in Colorado for four or five days, which makes it very hard to deal with the efforts at this altitude. Riders like Rafal Majka, his teammate Michael Rogers, NetApp rider Tiago Machado and Leopold König - they will have to ride into the race.

1km to go to the KOM.

The leaders have made it to the KOM line and it was quite the sprint, Looked like Norris took it from Lemus and a Jamis rider, perhaps Cooke.

The leaders have regrouped after that KOM sprint, it was Ben Jacques-Maynes who was beat in the sprint by Norris, with Lemus taking third, by our mark, but no official announcement yet.

Cannondale really has confidence in Viviani, and they're still controlling the pace, knowing they can just put some more gas on and bring these seven riders back fairly easily.

They've let the gap go out to 1:40 now, as Cooke goes back to the Jamis car for a bottle.

49km remaining from 98km

The leaders are 5km to the KOM.

Lemus stayed at the front after the first KOM, and on the very fast, technical run to the second summit, he's still there because that section offers little opportunity to move up. It's that quick.

UnitedHealthcare has come up with Cannondale to check things out at the front of the peloton, while up ahead the fans cheer on Summerhill and the rest. The gap is 2:05.

44km remaining from 98km

Leaders are on the second KOM of the day at McClain Flats, and Cooke is setting the pace. Summerhill is tail-gunning.

The gap is really bouncing around, back to 1:45 now. The sprint for the KOM is on and Norris is going for it again.

It was the two Jamis riders who tried to tag-team the sprint, but Norris timed it right and got the top points. They still have two more KOM sprints.

Norris, Jacques-Maynes, Cooke and Summerhill went over the top in that order.

Cagey riding by the young Australian Norris. It's not his first time here in Colorado, he raced in 2011 with HTC as a trainee, but wasn't picked up for a pro contract the next year because the team folded. It looks like he's changed his focus from the GC to the mountains jersey.

Jacques-Maynes is having a emphatic discussion with his team car, much of it must be in Italian because of all the hand-waving. He might be a little miffed about missing that KOM sprint.

40km remaining from 98km

The seven leaders are still working together, now with only 40km left to race on this short stage, but that's still a full loop and two more climbs, the last of which will likely be an intact field - or what's left of it. Norris will want to get at least one more KOM bonus, but will they stay clear? The gap is only 1:05.

They're heading back into Aspen, and there's a second intermediate sprint. Summerhill will likely go for that again, but there are 5 points for the two sprints total, and 15 at the line, so the stage winner will wear that sprint jersey today.

The gap has fallen under a minute as the discouraged Jamis duo have decided to sit on the back of the breakaway for now.

35km remaining from 98km

The peloton will see 1 lap to go at this sprint.

Heading into the last turn before the sprint and Summerhill is in the lead, but closely followed by the Jelly Belly rider.

Cannondale brings the bunch through for one to go, about 50 seconds later.

We missed out on the results of that sprint, sorry folks. We'll try to get the results for you. We do know Jacques-Maynes was third.

Incredibly, the leaders are still holding a 50 second gap, with Lemus doing the work right now. He's very motivated.

Back in the field, behind Cannondale the GC riders are getting themselves together, ready to respond to any attacks. Garmin-Sharp is just behind Cannondale, BMC is moving up.

Now it's Freter who is pulling for Jelly Belly in this breakaway, but we fear that if they survive past Snowmass with an advantage of more than a few seconds they'll be lucky. 45 seconds now.

The peloton passed by the Aspen airport, one of the scariest places to land in a plane of anywhere in the world. Even San Diego pales in comparison.

72km remaining from 98km

The gap is down to 35 seconds for the seven in the break, now with only 26 km to go or so.

Trek has joined Cannondale at the head of the field, but so far it's the green team doing the work, for the most part.

The breakaway is looking much more labored as they head up the climb. The KOM tops out with 20km to go, and the leaders now have just 25 seconds. Norris is going to have to attack if he wants the points on this climb.

25km remaining from 98km

25km to go for the leaders, and it's a hard row to hoe. The road to Snowmass is relentless and the altitude is wearing on them.

The mountains surrounding the peloton are a constant reminder of what is ahead: tomorrow is a hard stage, as is stage 3. The GC men are saving their bullets.

Attack in the break - Summerhill gets jettisoned as one rider goes long.

Ben Jacques-Maynes is the rider who attacked. He is tired of Norris stealing their thunder on the KOM, so he's gone in pursuit of it solo.

The peloton will wait until after Snowmass to make the catch. Jacques-Maynes knows this, and he also knows that the fast, technical section between the climbs will make it hard to catch him. He could scoop up both climbs here. Lemus is going after him.

Cooke, Lemus and one more rider are chasing Jacques-Maynes.

200m to go to the Snowmass KOM - Norris, Cooke, Lemus and Daniel are in pursuit, while Freter has gone back to the field.

20km remaining from 98km

Jacques-Maynes gets the KOM, and he has 20 seconds, whether that's on the chasers or the field, we don't know. It's close.

Jacques-Maynes won that KOM, but Norris took second. The Jamis rider will need to win the last KOM and Norris get nothing for Jacques-Maynes to get that jersey.

Jacques-Maynes actually trails by 1 point in the Mountains Classification before this last KOM - his teammate Cooke has been caught by the field, so can't take points from Norris, should the chasers and leader stay away for the last climb.

Jacques-Maynes is in a tight aero tuck as he tries to stay clear, he's got 35 seconds on the field, the chasers have 25. If Ben gets 4, and Norris gets 3, they'll be tied on points.

It's looking good for Ben's chances in the mountains classification - the chasers have been caught by the field!

The 35-year-old Jacques-Maynes still has a lot of fight left in his legs. He has had some tough times, with a broken collarbone a few years ago that got infected. Now with a beard, he seems to have found a second wind in his career.

Jacques-Maynes is on a tear on this descent, but we fear the flatter roads en route to Aspen will be his demise. It will be nearly impossible to stay clear of a concerted Cannondale chase.

The field is coming apart a bit on this climb. We saw Rapha-Condor's Hugh Carthy trying to jump across a gap. The leader now has 10km to go and 35 seconds.

Incredibly, Jens Voigt (Trek) has bridged the gap to the leader, but they are just barely off the front of the field.

Jacques Maynes got the last KOM, he'll wear that jersey tomorrow. He sits up then Voigt takes off- keen to get a stage win in his goodbye race.

Behind the leaders, Lucas Euser (UHC) and Peter Stetina (BMC) took the next KOM points. The peloton has split.

Garmin is not letting Voigt win this stage, they're nailing it back. BMC is behind, no sign of Cannondale, we may have lost Viviani.

With just 6km to go, Voigt still has 10 seconds and tempers in the peloton are starting to flare. Garmin wants help closing it down.

Lead group is 5km to go and we have a BMC rider solo in pursuit.  All back together now.

4km remaining from 98km

Only 4km to go and Garmin is drilling it. They've got Alex Howes who can sprint pretty well.

Novo Nordisk has attacked.

3km remaining from 98km

It's Javier Megias with 3km to go, solo but with only a slight advantage.

Chase group behind the peloton is 40 seconds behind the first bunch, that is only a few seconds behind Megias.

2km remaining from 98km

Only 2km to go and Megias is trying desperately to hang on on this final small climb.

There are two chasers behind MEgias, who is only a mile to the finish. It's Kiel Reijnen (UHC) and one other rider.

IT's Howes and Reijnen, they've passed MEgias and are in the final straightaway.

Reijnen wants this really bad, and he does it! He gets UnitedHealthcare's second win in this race's history. The only other one came on Flagstaff with Rory Sutherland two years ago.

Howes was second, and Ben Harmans of BMC was third.

1 Keil Reijen (USA) UnitedHealthcare
2 Alex Howes (USA) Garmin Sharp
3 Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing
 

Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune back in tomorrow for the big stage from Aspen to Crested Butte, over dirt roads and high mountains.

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