STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - Jens Voigt topped the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass alone, riding with a big lead yet knowing his chance of winning was small.
The 41-year-old German had done the gritty work necessary to have a chance in Stage?3 of the USA Pro Challenge. But when a cyclist takes risks on the road, he can't afford to have much go against him. On Wednesday afternoon, a steady headwind and a determined peloton doomed Voigt's hopes of victory.
"I saw it coming, but I was still disappointed," he said afterward.
When the pack reeled in Voigt on the outskirts of downtown, it was easy to see what was coming - a sprint finish and another stage win for Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan.
In the end, it was status quo on the third day of the seven-day stage race. Boulder resident Lachlan Morton of Garmin-Sharp still wears the yellow jersey as overall race leader after finishing among the lead pack. Swiss rider Mathias Frank of BMC sits in second, 2 seconds back, while Sagan is third and 11 seconds behind.
"I thought it would work out today," said Voigt, who rides for RadioShack Leopard Trek. "I had it in mind this morning. I told the boys in the team meeting that I'm up for it."
And for an hour or so after the fan favorite made his break from a group of five riders, it appeared as though he would enjoy another day in the Colorado sun. Last year, in Stage 4 of the event, Voigt pulled off a similar stunt and made it stand up with a win at Beaver Creek.
Not this time.
The sprint to the finish, which included a crash that sent at least one rider to the hospital, was Sagan's time to shine.
"I'm very happy and thankful for all of my teammates because they did great work," said Sagan, who rides for Cannondale.
"I'm sorry for Jens because he did very hard work on the front."
The race now reaches a pivotal point with the Queen Stage from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek on Thursday and the Vail time trial on Friday.
"Tomorrow is going to be a very, very hard day," Voigt said.
Added Morton: "I think the race is going to sort itself out there."
A climb in Beaver Creek known as Bachelor Gulch likely will do the sorting. The grade is as steep as 18 percent in places and Morton estimates it will take 20 minutes to finish the ascent.
Morton said he has ridden Bachelor Gulch once but wouldn't predict how he'd fare on the steep road.
"If you're on a good day, it suits you. If you feel good, it's great," he said with a wary laugh.
"Otherwise, it doesn't matter if it suits you or not."