With a challenging ascent of McClure Pass at the midway point and the harrowing dirt roads of Kebler Pass as the main features of the course, stage two of the USA Pro Challenge was guaranteed to be tough. With a mountain top finish in Crested Butte, the team was focused on protecting Carter Jones’ positioning on the overall standings. Rumors of rain in the morning turned out to be true, and the drops started pouring down on the way up to the 9980’ summit of Kebler Pass. Jones, Tom Zirbel, Bjorn Selander, and Ryan Anderson climbed through the rain together. The rain grew in intensity, and Zirbel and Selander slowly fell of the pace. Anderson was the last to lose contact with the group at the top of the pass, leaving Jones to fend for himself on the winding, muddy descent.
Near the summit of Kebler Pass, things got decidedly more complicated – race officials made the decision to neutralize the race due to weather conditions. Due to a lack of communication, riders did not hear the call for neutralization, crested the summit, and raced the descent.
Jones descended comfortably in the lead group and made it to the bottom unscathed. At the base, the neutralization was enforced by a road block, and riders at the head of the race were forced to stop, regroup, and restart. This meant several stationary minutes in cold rainfall for the already weathered riders, less than 6 miles from the finish line in Crested Butte.
“I understand that the officials number one concern is the safety of the athletes,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney, “However waiting until after the riders have safely raced the descent and neutralizing them afterward in the freezing cold rain altered the outcome of the race.”
Stage winner Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Development Team) was given a 1:20 lead during the restart, equivalent to his lead when the original neutralization was called. Carpenter was able to hold off chasers including Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp), who finished third and took over the yellow jersey. Jones finished 17th, 35 seconds behind Carpenter.
“My team worked incredibly hard to shelter me through the tough dirt section up Kebler Pass, and my legs felt great at the top,” said Jones. “Once the neutralization came after the descent I got very cold, started shivering, and I just didn’t have anything left in the tank for the climb to Crested Butte. It was a frustrating day, but we will keep battling regardless. We have a strong team here in Colorado and we are looking forward to the rest of the race.”