Stages three and four of the USA Pro Challenge, heading first from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs, and then Steamboat to Beaver Creek, were an incredible roller coaster ride for the team, even in a sport where emotional peaks and valleys are commonplace. Stage three, one of the team’s best shots at a stage win, came together perfectly, with the team slowly reeling in a dangerous solo flyer from Jens Voigt, and assembling the full force of the lead-out train at the head of affairs, with just two kilometers of racing left. The team’s goal of derailing Peter Sagan’s incredible finishing kick was derailed itself by an overzealous Cannondale rider who attempted to shoot an incredibly narrow gap between the Orange and Black lead-out and the hundreds of spectators lining the course. A spectator not quick enough to bounce back into the line, gazing through his iPhone, took the full brunt of a 35 MPH plus collision from the Cannondale rider alongside our train, and crashed out Friedman, Candelario, and Anthony in the process. Tom Zirbel and Ryan Anderson escaped, and Anderson sprinted for a third place finish.
Mike Friedman, bandaged up after crashing in Stage 3, gets ready to head to the start of Stage 4 of the 2013 US Pro Challenge
Mike Friedman shows of his SpiderTech tape before the start of Stage 4 of the 2013 US Pro Challenge
Friedman and Candelario suffered the worst of the injury, with two shattered helmets and bodies pocked with road rash. Candelario was less fortunate, with medical officials deeming it unsafe for the team captain so start after some concussion tests. Friedman, incredibly, was able to remount his bike for stage four and give it his all. It was a huge struggle from the first mile to the last. Friedman battled the biggest climbs of the race, rain, and his own twisted and scabbed body, finishing dead last and collapsing after the uphill finish in Beaver Creek.
The team’s relentless work over the last two days of racing, and the beautiful surroundings and enthusiastic Colorado fans that accompanied it, are the core of what makes bike racing such a beautiful sport. At the team dinner, a large monitor displayed video footage from the old Coors Classic race, hitting some of the same venues, with equally massive crowds, and it was hard not be proud of being part of the legacy of American stage racing that the USA Pro Challenge continues.
Today is the Vail Time Trial, a true test on the high altitude, uphill course returning from 2011. Tom Zirbel, with his national champion Orbea in tow, will attempt to get the team another result against the world’s best competition.
– Sam Wiebe