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Part of a six-rider breakaway that held off the peloton, Kreuziger had enough left to come around Megias in the sprint on the penultimate stage of the USA Pro Challenge; Dennis defended the lead

Photo: Sirotti

ROHAN DENNIS

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

ROMAN KREUZIGER

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

USA PRO CYCLING CHALLENGE

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
22.08.2015 @ 23:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) finally managed to take his first win since the 2013 Amstel Gold Race when he emerged as the strongest from a breakaway in the penultimate stage of the USA Pro Challenge. The Czech was part of a 6-rider group that held off the peloton and had enough left in the sprint to come around Javier Megias (Novo Nordisk) while Rohan Dennis (BMC) finished safely in the bunch to defend his overall lead.

 

Going into the USA Pro Challenge, Roman Kreuziger got lots of attention as the most accomplished stage racer on the start list. However, his Tinkoff-Saxo team was keen to play down expectations, claiming that the Czech was not in his best condition.

 

That turned out to be true as he dropped out of GC contention right from the start and as team leaders Ivan Rovny and Chris Anker Sørensen could not keep up with the best, it looked like the Russian team would leave the race empty-handed. However, with a  solid breakaway performance in stage 4 and a good time trial yesterday, Kreuziger had showed growing condition and today he saved the race for the team by winning the penultimate stage.

 

At the top of the final climb with 20km to go, Kreuziger, Dylan Girdlestone (Drapac), Javier Megias (Novo Nordisk), Tom Zirbel (Bissell), Leonardo Basso (Trek) and Nathan Brown (Cannondale-Garmin) had an advantage of 2.15 over a reduced peloton. Two late climbs had taken their toll on the sprint teams and it was only a single Unitedhealthcare setting the pace at the top.

 

As they started the descent, Greg Daniel (Axeon), Janez Brajkovic and Chris Jones (Unitedhealthcare) started to trade pulls on the front but the gap was not really coming down. Entering the final 15km, it was still 2.00.

 

The pace was not fast enough and so Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) who had been active earlier in the stage, tried to get clear but it was mission impossible and he was quickly brought back. Nonetheless, the gap was still 1.50 when Jones swung off with 11km to go.

 

The escapees clearly started to focus on the finale and so Brajkovic and Daniel slowly started to bring the gap down. Toms Skujins (Hincapie) also started to work and it was only 1.15 with 7km to go.

 

Two kiloemtres later, Daniel swung off as they had brought the gap down to just a minute and this was the signal for Kreuziger to start the attacking. Only Brown could keep up with him and the duo seemed like they were riding away.

 

However, the four chasers worked well together and when Brown hesitated a bit in sharing the work, the advantage was reduced. For a few kilometres, the leading pair dangled 10 metres ahead of the chasers.

 

In the peloton, all the work was now left to Brajkovic and as they were still 55 seconds behind with 2km to go, it was evident that the sprinters were out of the battle for the win. Moments later, the Slovenian swung off and so it was left to Michael Schär (BMC) to bring an attack from a Hincapie rider back.

 

Meanwhile, the gap between the two front groups was still just 10 metres as they passed the flamme rouge Here Megias who had skipped lots of turns, launched an attack and in just a few seconds he bridged the gap to the leaders.

 

Brown wa on the front and as no one wanted to come throught, the sextet came back together with 500m to go. That’s when Megias launched a long sprint and this was too much for the Spaniard. Kreuziger responded immediately and had enough left to come around the Novo Nordisk rider. Basso was next across the line in third.

 

A little later, John Murphy tried to do the lead-out for Kiel Reijnen who wanted to pick up points for the green jersey. However, that failed completely as the teammate was first across the line, followed by Lucas Haedo (Jamis) and the leader.

 

Rohan Dennis (BMC) finished safely in the bunch and so needs to get safely through the final stage to win the race overall. The final stage offers a tough category 3 climb after just 25km but from there it is a flat 85km run-in to the finish in Denver.

 

A lumpy stage

After yesterday’s time trial, the sprinters were expected to come to the fore in stage 6 which brought the riders over 164.5km from Loveland to Fort Collins. After a completely flat first half, the riders went up a category 2 climbs and then descended to the bottom of a category 4 climb which summited 21km from the flat finish.

 

It was another sunny day in Colorado when the riders gathered for the start. There were no non-starters as they headed out for their neutral ride.

 

Reijnen wins the sprint

As in the past stages, it was a very fast start as Jamis and Drapac were among the early attackers. Howeve, Unitedhealthcare wanted to keep it together for the first intermediate sprint where Kiel Reijnen paid his teammates off for the work by beating John Murphy (Unitedheathcare) and Brent Boowalter (BMC).

 

After the sprint, Kreuziger and Julian Arredondo (Trek) got a small gap while Wojciech Migdal (Cycling Academy) tried to bridge across. They joined forces but as their advantage was only 10 seconds, they were caught at the 18km mark.

 

More points for Reijnen

It was very windy which meant that small echelons were falling but it was not enough to split the field much. Unitedhealthcare were back on the front as they approached the second sprint and even sent Marco Canola off in a short-lived attack. There were lots of aggression but as it was still together at the sprint, Reijnen beat his teammates Murphy and Tanner Putt to extend his lead in the points competition.

 

After the sprint, the elastic snapped when Kreuziger, Brown, Danny Summerhill (Unitedhealthcare) and Megias got clear. Miguel Angel Benito (Caja Rural) made an unsuccessful try to bridge across and instead it was Basso, Zirbel and Gidlestone who made the junction.

 

Lots of abandonments

The peloton finally slowed down and as they entered the final 100km, the gap had gone out to 2.20. BMC were controlling the pace and allowed the escapees to add another 50 seconds to their lead during the next 10km.

 

With 80km to go, the gap had gone out to 4 minutes and it was now a single Smartstop rider who had been given the task of setting the pace. Meanwhile, Kyle Murphy (Caja Rural) crashed and Peter Stetina (BMC) , Phil Gaimon (Optum)and Jack Bobridge (Budget Forkilifts) abandoned.

 

Morton takes off

The gap hovered around 4 minutes for a while until the lone Smartstop rider upped the pace slightly. With 60km to go, the gap was down to 3.30 and as they slowly started to climb the category 2 mountain, more Smartstop riders joined forces with him.

 

As the road got steeper, Jelly Belly made a big acceleration to whittle the field significantly down before they sent Lachlan Morton off in an attack. Hence, the gap was down to just 1.50 two kilometres from the top of the climb.

 

The front group splits up

This prompted Kreuziger to go full gas and his fast pace was too much for Summerhill who got dropped. Later Megias, Zirbel and Girdlestone also had to surrender before the Czech led Brown and Basso over the top. Zirbel, Megias, Girdleston and Summerhill were next.

 

In the peloton, Michael Schär had taken control for BMC as they finished the climb and started the descent. Here Summerhill went down in a crash and even though he was quickly back on his bike, he sat up and was passed by Morton.

 

The chase gets organized

The two front trios came back together and entered the final 38km with an advantage of 2.10. Morton was still dangling a few metres ahead of the peloton.

 

At the bottom of the final climb with 25km to go, the gap had gone out to 3.00 while Morton had extended his advantage to 50 seconds. However, the chase had now got organized as Axeon, Smartstop and Unitedhealthcare had joined forces, Greg Daniel and Emerson Oronte among the riders to work hard.

 

Morton is caught

As they hit the climb, Hincapie took over the pace-setting and as they made things hard, Morton was brought back. However, the acceleration had killed the riders from the black team, meaning that Morton tried again. However, Schär easily reeled him in.

 

Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rural) tried to attack but he had no success as Axeon had taken control. As they reached the summit, Dennis briefly moved up to try to pick up KOM points but that made no sense as they had already been taken by Kreuziger, Brown, Basso and Megias in that order. Unitedhealthcare had now taken control and with a gap of 2.15, the scene was set for an exciting finale.

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