The elephant in the peloton
USA Pro Cycling Challenge riders pedal on in the shocking wake of Armstrong’s announcement
The cyclists in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge rode against more than each other Friday.
They also pedaled against an elephant in the peloton.
On the day after one-time American cycling legend and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was banned for life by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association (USADA), Tyler Farrar of powerhouse Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda won an anticlimactic Stage 5 of the USA Pro Challenge, his second stage win of the 2012 tour.
Farrar stomped away from the bunched field and won a final sprint to the finish line south on Tejon Street in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs, not so ironically the home base of the U.S. Anti-Doping Association.
“I was in a good spot (with one 2.5-kilometer lap to go in the finishing street circuit),” said Farrar, who won the opening stage in a bunch sprint in downtown Telluride.
Just like in Telluride and again in Crested Butte, the chase peloton reeled in a breakaway just a few miles from the stage finish.
“It was a chaotic sprint because the roads are so big,” he said of the expansive downtown Colorado Springs avenues.
“I got a little boxed in around 300 (meters to go). But I managed to find a bit of open road along the fence to make it through,” Farrar said.
“Stage 1 (bunch sprint finish) was a bonus,” said Farrar, one of only two Americans who has won stages at three Grand Tours – France, Italy and Spain.
“(Friday) was always the day I had marked out,” he said.
Farrar credited his Garmin teammates with the hard work that led to his sprint victory.
Originally from Washington state, Farrar lives and trains in Ghent, Belgium, a location he became familiar with as a U.S. National Development Team rider. The team has a training base home in Belgium.
He crossed the line just in front of 22-year-old Taylor Phinney, the Boulder native and Olympic cyclist for BMC racing who finished second.
Alessandro Bazzana of Italy (Team Type I) finished third Friday.
The overall standings in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge remained the same after Friday’s stage.
Tejay van Garderen, the 24-year-old Olympian with BMC, retained the yellow jersey over Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde, who shares the same overall time with van Garderen.
Russian Ivan Rovny (RusVelo) is third, 6 seconds behind the two leaders.
Defending USA Pro Cycling Challenge champion Levi Leipheimer of California (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is fourth, 8 seconds back.
Tom Danielson of Boulder, the Fort Lewis College graduate who won the Stage 3 Queen Stage in Aspen on Wednesday, finished safely in the pack Friday with the same time as Farrar.
Danielson, who was the top American in eighth place at the 2011 Tour de France, is eighth overall in the second annual Colorado stage race. He’s 15 seconds back heading toward his hometown roads in Boulder.
Danielson also retained his King of the Mountain jersey as the top climber with the keynote climbs near Boulder coming up in today’s stage.
“(Friday) was a bit less stressful than the other days,” van Garderen said at the postrace news conference. He said the general classification riders tried to ride safely in the pack after four days of hard racing.
“You try to not even touch the wind,” van Garderen said of cycling’s energy-saving mantra. “You eat, drink and spin the legs. Every bit of energy you can save today, you will have for tomorrow.”
He said his primary concern Friday was staying safe by riding up front.
Van Garderen reiterated his prediction that Leipheimer is a cyclist to watch with one big mountain stage from Golden to Boulder and Sunday’s final individual time trial in downtown Denver.
“I’m really worried about him,” van Garderen said of the cycling veteran. “Of Tom (Danielson) and Christian (Vande Velde), Levi is the better time trialer,” van Garderen said.
He and Farrar agreed about today’s 103-mile stage that will feature two Category 2 climbs plus the dramatic uphill finish at the amphitheater atop Flagstaff Mountain.
Friday’s 118-mile stage started in Breckenridge, which served as a finish town in 2011. An immediate climb up Hoosier Pass south of Breckenridge greeted the cyclists, who were coming off grueling mountain miles that started Monday in Durango.
An early breakaway – yet again – set the pace almost from the start. The overall GC leaders rode comfortably in the chase peloton with the major teams in commanding positions.
BMC, Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek went to defense – either man-to-man marking or “zone defense.”
While the breakaway shrunk from a magnificent seven to three musketeers, it eventually was reduced to a dynamic duo as Vincenzo Nibali of Italy (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Swiss rider Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) forged ahead.
As was the case Monday and Tuesday, the peloton caught the leaders.
With the peloton back together for the downtown street circuits, the teams positioned sprinters for the final run.
“My main goal is to win a stage,” Nibali said through a translator. He said the Colorado crowds have been excited.
“I want to show respect for that ... winning a stage would do that,” said the popular Italian, who finished third in the recent Tour de France. A mistimed break on the downtown circuit cost him a higher finish Friday.
The podium finishers and several pro cyclists declined comment on the Armstrong situation Friday, many citing confusion over the jurisdiction issues with USADA, cycling’s world governing body (International Cycling Union) and the Tour de France.
American rider Michael Creed, who lives in Colorado Springs, said he and most of the current riders are “so removed from that situaton.” He said he was disappointed in the development during the current USA Pro Challenge.
“When you have people ... demanding perfection,” said Creed, tailing off with a reference to these unrealistic expectatons.
“I don’t know why he (Lance) did it,” he said of the announcement that Armstrong will not fight USADA’s accusations of doping. “I just hope ... it’s over.”
Creed received one of the loudest ovations in the finish area when spectators watched as he launched a late attack in the Garden of the Gods just outside his hometown.
“I gave it a go,” he said of the denied break.
But Creed was cheered as much for his role in the community as his racing. The cyclist with Optum Kelly Benefit Strategies led a local fundraising effort after the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire ravaged Colorado Springs.
“Coming down into Woodland Park, I was pointing out the fire line to people,” Creed said.
“Tejay was just down here. Tejay donated his first white jersey; that is a pretty precious item,” Creed said of van Garderen’s best young rider jersey he earned at this year’s Tour de France. “It shows what a class rider he is ... it fetched $2,000 (at a benefit auction).
“My hat’s off to him,” said Creed, who rides for the team that also sponsors a women’s pro cycling team, led by Durango’s Carmen Small.
Creed’s efforts have raised more than $35,000 for local fire relief efforts.
Fans on the street in downtown Colorado Springs collectively shrugged their shoulders when asked about Armstrong’s announcement that he is foregoing a court of arbitration hearing with USADA.
Standing in the shadow of the building that houses the United States Olympic Committee, most fans Friday were more interested in a Smashburger and New Belgium brew than Armstrong’s blood profile.
Bryan Oller/Associated Press
Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald