Today's stage went over Monarch Pass in the Sawatch Range which is southwest of Colorado Springs. The stage was about 99 miles and followed US 50 from Salida to Gunnison, where it then took a hard right and went north along CO 135 to Crested Butte.
On a side note, I attended a meeting for law enforcement and emergency providers in Jefferson County this morning and it was enlightening for sure. Sunday's final stage is sure to be exciting, looping out of and around Golden and back three times before blasting east to Denver for what will hopefully be a grand finale. The myriad concerns this race is bringing to everyone's attention over the next week is an order of magnitude beyond normal special events. Mind boggling.
And while I understand the frustration many residents across the state feel as their roads are clogged and their towns are overrun by race fans and spectators, I don't understand the animosity some unenlightened individuals seem to be acting upon.
The night before the Deer Creek Challenge which occurred this past Sunday someone dumped a thick layer of sand a few yards long on one of the mountain roads the riders would use. Cyclists and authorities have been finding tacks, glass and other debris along the route for weeks. Last night someone tried to sabotage the USPCC route by pouring oil on the backside of Monarch Pass (today's stage) and someone else apparently crashed a truck through port-o-lets put out for spectators near Cottonwood Pass.
Its appalling that someone would do something so insidious and put ALL road users in danger, not just the racers.
Anyway, back to the race at hand...I have never visited the area where today's stage passes through so I can't speak to the terrain or scenery beyond what I can glean from Google Maps and google searches for images of the area. But knowing what little I do, I can imagine its stunning. The video coverage of the riders showed a pretty amazing arid landscape.
US 50 that the riders start out on is THAT US 50 that crosses the US and passes through cities like Reno, Nevada, Kansas City, St. Louis and Cincinnati, Ohio. It's also the subject of a cool song by one of my favorite bands: The Tillers from Cinci.
There was an early breakaway, four riders crossed Monarch Pass ahead of the peloton and by the time the leaders reached Gunnison there were two: Jay Thompson of Bissell and Bradley White of UnitedHealthcare.
Eduard Beltran Suarez claimed the King of the Mountain point for the stage.
As the breakaway, Beltran on chase duty and the rest of the field crossed from the bottom of the descent of Monarch Pass to Gunnison to the west they battled headwinds and there was speculation about the crosswinds they would face as they turned north for Crested Butte.
From Gunnison the route climbed gradually up to Crested Butte. There were sprint points at Gunnison and just outside of Crested Butte where riders could pick up a few seconds. In Gunnison Brad White won the sprint, gained 3 seconds and was followed by Jay Thompson.
A side note about Crested Butte, at the end of July Lance Armstrong showed up to ride the Crested Butte Alpine Odyssey, a qualifying race for the Leadville 100, and he won the race. Of course he did not go on to ride in Leadville this year.
On a humorous note, the two commentators on the Shack Tracker coverage are British, so if you squint your eyes as you watch you could forget and think you were watching the TdF. This is the US Pro Cycling Challenge! Where are the American commentators?! And the debates over the pronunciation of Salida and Buena Vista are hysterical. We know they have a Spanish origin, but Americans like to butcher pronunciations of foreign words. Its like our hobby. I grew up near a town pronounced "Vur-sales" and spelled "Versailles." Why no debate about "Crested Butte?" They could speculate Native Americans called it "Creested Butt."
Outside Gunnison the storm clouds chased the riders and pushed them toward town. North of town the peloton began chasing down the two leaders as the riders climbed up toward Creested Butt. The field and angry looking skies converged on the ski town as the two leaders kept their diminishing lead.
At 20 miles to go the peloton had reduced the lead of the breakaway brothers from the four minute neighborhood to knocking at the door at 1:15. The terrain steepened and the race started to get interesting.
With 15 miles to go the Creested Butt itself came into view in all its glory. White and Thompson had started to lag, looking tired, but still cranking away. They were maintaining a 1:15 lead as the roads carried them up toward the finish.
And then with 10 miles to go the gap between the chased and the field was only 45 seconds! And at 9.4 miles 0:35!!!
Gretsch, wearing the yellow jersey, fought to hang on as the peloton screamed up to Creested Butt.
8.8 miles to go and the gap shrinks to 25 seconds!
The peloton started to roil with activity. The teams were making their plays as the finish line drew closer.
White and Thompson were swallowed by the peloton around 8 miles out. The sprint at Creested Butt loomed. Who would take the sprint? Chewing nails to nubs! Grinding teeth in anticipation! Arg!!! The agony!!! MUST! TAKE! UP! GOLF!
At 6.3 miles a horseback rider in a field off to the east paced the peloton reminiscent of the scene in American Flyers just before we see the pale behind of Kevin Costner.
With less than 4 miles to go the peloton mass entered Creested Butt proper to pathetically thin crowds. Juraj Sagan wins the sprint and the battle for the stage begins!
Less than 2 miles and a Garmin rider takes the lead!
The spectators are still painfully absent as the riders struggle for glory in the thin air of the Rockies!
With a mile and a half to go American Tom Danielson takes second! Gretsch hangs on to fourth place for a bit.
Gretsch moves to third followed close by Schlecks, Leiphiemer. Andy slings into first with a huge gap and a mile to go!
Pate, Schleck and a third rider fight for first!
Pate falls, Frank moves up and so does Cadel in third! The crowds appear thronging the finish, finally, the sponsors may recoup...
Levi screams away...and never looks back
"Levi Leipheimer has cracked the stage!"
Winner of Stage 1, Salida to Crested Butte is Levi Leipheimer of Team Radio Shack.