By Eddie Clark
Phinney blasts to stage win, and Vande Velde takes nail biter USA Pro Challenge victory.
(August 26, 2012) DENVER, Colo.—Going into the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge, it appeared as if Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) had another win coming his way, but that was not to be. Instead, it was Garmin-Sharp's Christian Vande Velde that took the overall win for the second edition of 'America's race' by putting in an exceptional time trial that placed him in second for the stage and 21 second ahead of Tejay van Garderen (BMC) for the overall USA Pro Challenge win.
Just like the previous days stages, the crowds were bigger and better than ever and their cheers made the 9.5 mile jaunt around downtown Denver a day that would go down as historic for US bike racing. The race venue and its elevated start ramp were located in the middle of Civic Center Park for all to watch, and soon as racers exited the park venue they had miles of long flat straight stretches for laying down the power, and enough turns to make bike handling important for saving seconds. Fortunately, warm sunny and stable weather provided an even playing field for all the racers.
Early in the day the bar was set incredibly high by Taylor Phinney (BMC) with a blazingly fast time of 17:25, which would hold for the entire day to give the rising star his biggest win on American soil. “I’m beyond excited to win today. It’s a great honor to win in the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge,” said Phinney. “This was one of the best weekends of my life."
While Phinney remained firmly planted in the stage leaders hot seat, the real battle for the USA Pro Challenge commenced with the days last three riders gunning for the overall win. With only seconds separating Tejay van Garderen, Christian Vande Velde and Levi Leipheimer the crowd was on their toes to see who would take the overall.
In the end, Leipheimer had a less than memorable time trial that saw him finish ninth and 33 seconds down on Vande Velde who's stellar ride propelled him to his greatest victory yet. Van Garderen would also put in a stellar ride for third on the stage, which gave him second place for the overall Pro Challenge.
“I was really excited yesterday after I stole some time from Tejay van Garderen and was able to keep close to Levi Leipheimer. It was an amazing race, straight to the finish,” said Vande Velde. “The opportunity to participate in a race like this, of this caliber is a beautiful thing. As long as there are races like the USA Pro Challenge in America, I want to race as long as I can. The crowds are so positive and so happy.”
Notably, the day held some sentimental value too as one of America's most loved and respected racers, George Hincapie (BMC) rode the time trial as his last professional race to mark an end to what is simply an incredible career. Hincapie won numerous national championships and many prestigious professional road races, he wore the Tour de France's yellow jersey for a day, and he also holds the record for most tours ridden. The crowds cheers were every bit as loud for Big George as they were for anyone else. In closing, George said, “I really felt the emotion from the crowd and this is what’s gotten me through the last several years. The support from all of you is amazing and I’m so happy for this to be my last race ever."