DENVER – On a stage that one cyclist described as a “sleeper of a day” in the inaugural Colorado Classic, two foreign riders somehow managed to send alarm bells ringing through the peloton.
On Saturday, Italian Manuel Senni and Romanian Serghei Tvetcov upended what seemed certain to be a three-man battle among Americans to win the four-day race. How they pulled it off might be the biggest surprise of all.
The pair attacked on the final climb of Stage 3, added time on the descent and remarkably held off their pursuers to the line. Tvetcov claimed the stage victory while Senni grabbed the overall lead with one day to go.
“Getting a victory in cycling is so hard,” Tvetcov said. “I told my (team) directors from Jelly Belly that I have good form but I need luck.”
In pro cycling, because there is such an overwhelming strength in numbers, luck is almost required for a breakaway of two to hold off a larger chase group on a lengthy downhill approach to the finish line. And in Saturday’s stage, luck did fall the duo’s way thanks to Mother Nature.
First, rain fell on the dirt section of the course, hardening the surface and making it easier to control the bikes. Then, the riders benefited from a tailwind as they raced toward Denver’s RiNo District.
“That’s going to be good for us and it’s going to pretty much mean the same speed for the chase group so that’s why the gap was holding,” Tvetcov said.
It didn’t hurt that Senni and Tvetcov were sharing the load, knowing full well that each could profit from the other. Senni stands to gain the most now, as he carries a 15-second lead over Tvetcov into Sunday – a day that should see him secure his first professional tour victory.
“It’s something special,” he said. “I’m trying to get some good results while I have the chance.”
Senni typically pulls a different assignment for BMC, doing the work so another member of the team can succeed. That was his job this month at the Tour of Utah.
“Here they gave me the chance to play my cards,” he said. “And today I had in my DNA to attack, attack, attack. It was a good day.”
The same can’t be said for Americans Alex Howes, T.J. Eisenhart and Peter Stetina, who all lost time and their lofty positions in the overall standings. Howes now sits in third, 31 seconds back. The Cannondale Drapac rider did what was needed to surpass Eisenhart, who held a one-second edge going into the day, only to have his dreams of the overall lead turned upside down.
Eisenhart, who rides for Holowesko/Citadel Racing, trails by 33 seconds while Stetina, part of the Trek-Segafredo team, is 44 seconds behind. Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran is 2:49 back in 13th.
STAGE 4 BREAKDOWN
12:20 p.m. Sunday (approximate finish 3 p.m.), Denver. 74.6 miles, 1,600 feet of elevation gain. For the 20th time in Colorado history, a champion will be crowned in a men’s professional road cycling stage race. While the final day is likely to be anticlimactic, it won’t lack intensity. Expect high speeds and a sprint finish as the overall leader tries to stay upright and out of trouble.