BRECKENRIDGE – The queen stage of the inaugural Colorado Classic dished out the pain that organizers expected when they drew up the course. What couldn’t have been anticipated was the wild finish that ensued Friday in front of thousands of fans.
T.J. Eisenhart spent a good chunk of the day riding alone, out front and out of trouble as a strong field of cyclists chased on a route that featured 10 laps and a total of 64 miles.
“I knew I wanted to do something special,” he said. “When we hit that first climb I was like, ‘Man, I feel great.’ Pretty soon it hit me and dawned on me that everyone else was suffering pretty hard.”
That’s when he took off, leaving the likes of Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran. And, for a while, it looked as though the move would pay off. But with three laps to go, Peter Stetina countered. And Alex Howes followed.
Lap after lap, the gap went down. And by the time Stetina, who rides for Trek-Segafredo, and Howes, a Cannondale Drapac cyclist, reached the crest of the last climb, there was Eisenhart. That meant a sprint finish.
“Howes, he has that kick,” said Eisenhart, part of Holowesko/Citadel Racing. “I definitely don’t have that kick.”
That kick was the difference as the two raced into downtown. Howes crossed the line, raising his arms to celebrate the Stage 2 win.
“I was screaming, I was yelling, I was crying, just having a great time,” Howes said.
And while Eisenhart had to settle for second, he still left Breckenridge with a wonderful consolation prize – the overall lead with two stages to go.
Because of time bonuses given out during the stage, Eisenhart holds a one-second lead on Howes. Another 11 seconds back is Stetina. Uran trails by 1:48.
“I really wanted to win here today because I knew whoever takes the win here today has a great shot at winning the overall,” Howes, a native of Denver, said. “So to get the win today, it was pretty special.”
Now, his attention turns to finding a way to make up that second. Saturday’s stage is a road course that starts and finishes in Denver while Sunday’s stage is a circuit race in the Mile High City.
“I think T.J. knows that he can’t just rest on a one-second advantage on the next two stages so it’s going to be pretty aggressive,” Howes said. “It’s a four-day race and we came to race for four days.”
STAGE 3 BREAKDOWN
1:30 p.m. Saturday (approximate finish 4:40 p.m.), Denver. 81 miles, 6,733 feet of elevation gain. There will be plenty of climbing with difficult miles logged on Peak to Peak Highway and through Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Expect riders to be aggressive in the hills and open decent leads, but this stage likely will belong to the sprinters.