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Hickenlooper fires the first shot, Farrar the last

While defending champion Levi Leipheimer and Fort Lewis College alumnus Tom Danielson adjust their helmet straps, the rest of the field gets ready for the downtown Durango start of Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Monday. Exergy’s Fred Rodriguez finished fourth in the first stage bunch sprint in downtown Telluride. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

While defending champion Levi Leipheimer and Fort Lewis College alumnus Tom Danielson adjust their helmet straps, the rest of the field gets ready for the downtown Durango start of Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Monday. Exergy’s Fred Rodriguez finished fourth in the first stage bunch sprint in downtown Telluride.

With a pop from Governor John Hickenlooper’s starter’s pistol, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge began rolling through Durango toward its intended Stage 1 target of Telluride, where Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda’s Tyler Farrar won a late sprint in the final kilometer to take the opening stage in 4 hours, 42 minutes, 48 seconds.

A varied group of riders built a lead of more than five minutes in the race’s middle section before the shakeup at Lizard Head Pass.

Tom Danielson, who finished as part of a massive group behind his teammate, Farrar, went on a solo breakaway near the end of the day’s second big climb, cresting Lizard Head Pass first to pick up 10 more King of the Mountain points en route to taking the red polka-dotted jersey. But as he crested, the peloton closed to within 45 seconds of the lead, nearly erasing the sizeable lead the breakaway group amassed earlier in the race.

The other breakaway group – Peter Stetina, Vincenzo Nibali and Eduard Beltran – caught up to Danielson as the peloton continued to close.

Stetina and Danielson then broke away alone and built a 30-second lead on the peloton and were the first two to hit the Alta King of the Mountain line. But the peloton caught the breakaway with just 2.8 miles to go, setting up a sprint finish into Telluride.

As the riders finished their two parade laps in downtown Durango, they spun around Fort Lewis College and Florida Road on the way out of Durango.

Dave Hagen, for one, finally could breathe easy.

The director of cycling at Fort Lewis College doubled as co-technical director for this event, and he said seeing months and months of preparation finally come to fruition Monday was as rewarding as it gets.

“It’s amazing to see it all happen and come together. It’s awesome,” Hagen said.

Riders from 16 teams completed two parade laps through crowded downtown streets as Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” blared appropriately in the background. They then set off up the Front Hill toward FLC, took a spin on Rim Drive and North College Drive, cut down Florida Road, then sprinted downtown for the first of two sprint primes to determine the first rider to wear the green jersey as the race’s best sprinter.

The first Sprint Line was won by Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda’s Nathan Haas, a 23-year-old cyclist from Australia. He earned five points toward claiming the jersey, while Javier Eduardo Gomez Pińeda took three points and Martin Velits one.

Serghei Tvetcov of Team Exergy won the second sprint prime in downtown Dolores.

Danielson, an FLC alumnus, was part of an early breakaway of 22 riders that built a 15-second lead near Hesperus. Andrew Bajadali of Team Optum was first up Hesperus Hill, earning eight points toward the King of the Mountain jersey. Freddy Piamonte earned seven, Matt Cooke six and Danielson five.

As for the opening ride through Durango, Hagen said he was pleased with the crowds. Those in attendance near the starting line included Major League Baseball’s all-time and single-season home run leader Barry Bonds, FLC athletic director Gary Hunter, Durango DEVO coach Chad Cheeney, a gentleman in a rainbow wig and angel wings, Captain America and FLC mascot Skyler the Skyhawk.

“I mean, standing up here and seeing 10-deep all the way down to Fifth Avenue ... that’s what we planned for; that’s what we worked so hard for was to make it a great experience for all those people,” Hagen said.

This week proved to be one of the longest for Hagen and Co. since they began preparations on the stage’s Durango section in January. Among the details to be ironed out in that time period included parking passes, portable toilets, the course and more, while his staff, led by Cathy Craig, had to manage more than 400 volunteers.

“To try to plan for 30 thousand spectators, that was our job,” Hagen said. “It was a lot of work. This week was a 60-hour week.”

Almost as quickly as the race began and after all the preparation, the cyclists were gone in a blur. The kickoff now is over, and Durango has passed the baton to Telluride.

Time will tell if it’ll be passed back next year.

rowens@durangoherald.com

Tom Danielson, RadioShack and BMC’s George Hincapie follow a USA Pro Cycling Challenge pace car through the two-lap, downtown parade that kick-started the first stage of the second annual race in Durango. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Tom Danielson, RadioShack and BMC’s George Hincapie follow a USA Pro Cycling Challenge pace car through the two-lap, downtown parade that kick-started the first stage of the second annual race in Durango.

Followed by their team cars and backup bikes and flanked by their motorcycle escorts, the pros descend into Mancos on Monday during Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Followed by their team cars and backup bikes and flanked by their motorcycle escorts, the pros descend into Mancos on Monday during Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

The field makes its way toward Mancos after Durango’s Grand Depart on Monday during Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Garmin’s Tyler Farrar eventually won the stage in Telluride. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

The field makes its way toward Mancos after Durango’s Grand Depart on Monday during Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Garmin’s Tyler Farrar eventually won the stage in Telluride.

Zachary Bell of SpiderTech hunches over his handlebars and leads a pair of pro cyclists down Mancos Hill on Monday during Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Zachary Bell of SpiderTech hunches over his handlebars and leads a pair of pro cyclists down Mancos Hill on Monday during Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Enlarge photo

Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald