Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Oxygen at the USA Pro Challenge
In a rousing finale, Stage Two of the USA Pro Challenge saw Swiss rider Mathias Frank of BMC Racing ride in a style far from neutral, as he attacked to victory over the day’s final climb up Boreas pass, leaving Garmin-Sharp rider Lachlan Morton to take second, as well as the overall lead in the general classification—despite the fact his accompanying facial hair defies classification altogether.
While Frank crossed the line alone, the win was far from easy. “I had one shot, I knew I could make it to the finish; I could hardly pedal after the top of the climb,” he explained, pointing to the difficulties that come with Colorado’s extreme altitudes. “Luckily I’m not the only one with these problems.”
But, as the insightful Swiss also pointed out, “climbing is climbing, and climbing is hard.”
Erstwhile race leader Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) didn’t see fit to let Frank and Morton go it alone on the podium, instead bursting from the pack on the final climb and chasing hard to try and preserve his race lead, but eventually settling for third-place on the day after passing Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) in the final run-in, and further extending his lead in the points classification and allowing the severely fractured peloton to trickle in behind him.
What “was just a really strange day” by Morton’s judgement, began with a first category ascent out of Aspen up to Independence Pass, for a gain of nearly 4,000 feet. Topping out at 12,096 feet, Independence Pass affords a view of the most 14,000 peaks anywhere in America, although it wasn’t such pretty sight for racers who had already fallen off the back as the peloton motored up after the day’s early break.
A descent off the pass marked by several crashes kept the nervous energy high, as the break’s lead continued to grow with the added firepower of David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Kanstantin Sitsou (Team Sky) who bridged across from the peloton on the long descent.
As Cannondale began to chase hard for Peter Sagan, the gap fell steadily, and shortly after the early break was caught another group of a dozen-and-a-half riders including Frank and Morton sprung away from the peloton.
Quickly racking up nearly two minutes on the peloton, the break began the Category Two climb up Hoosier Pass—whose 6-percent ramps afforded Morton the opportunity to jump away. Frank pursued out of the dwindling chase, with Craddock in tow, eventually pulling back Morton after a ten-kilometer chase.
Starting the final climb up Boreas Pass via the much-anticipated steeps of Moonstone Road together, Frank attacked in the final kilometer of the climb, dropping first Craddock, then Morton shortly thereafter, summiting alone.
Taking to heart teammate Tejay Van Garderen’s pre-race surmising that the “postioning you have at the top [of Boreas Pass] you’re going to have at the finish,” Frank forged on alone, all the way to the line, proving that the tactics of an ardent young Swiss, were clearly no miss.
Tomorrow’s stage sees riders pull into Steamboat Springs in what could be a toss-up for either the sprinters or the intrepid breakaway to claim as their own.