The churning in my stomach is roughly equivalent to the wake of a paddleboat steaming down the Mississippi.
10-percent grades normally don’t exactly feel great, but on the slopes of the second KOM climb featured in the opening stage this year’s USA Pro Challenge, I’m ready to pull over and part with my morning’s crowning achievement—a big ol’ plate of downright delctable huevos rancheros.
But, coming from about 50 feet above sea level, and knowing that the climb topped out at just under 8,000 feet, I didn’t feel too bad about my performance—at least until the peloton crushed the incline in less than half the time it took me to scale it—on multiple occasions.
Elevation is a cruel mistress—one that even Tour de France Champion Chris Froome flirted with as he lost contact with the pack on the third and final lap of the day’s 22-mile circuit connecting Aspen and Snowmass, Colorado, eventually rolling over the line five minutes in arrears.
So in a race that saw me losing my breath on the walk back to the hotel, it saw an inimitable Peter Sagan wrestle away victory from BMC’s Greg van Avermaet in a show of youthful bravado that fans the world over have become increasingly used to.
Attacking with a group of six other riders just after the final climb, Sagan showed his jack-of-all-trades ability, when, after being reabsorbed by the peloton, kept his position at the front before carrying out a flawless sprint to the line.
If your name is Greg van Avermaet, today just wasn’t your day.
However, Van Avermaet wasn’t alone, as several GC contenders also experienced a bit of misfortune. Team Sky’s designated leader, neo-pro Joe Dombrowski, lead the second group on the road to the finish, losing 5 seconds in the dash to the line along with Garmin-Sharp rider and defending champ Christian Vande Velde.
Tomorrow’s stage begins with a nearly 4,000-foot climb up Independence Pass, a reminder to the sprinters that if they’d like a shot at the line, they’re going to have to work for it.