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USA Pro Challenge: Aspen's Tejay van Garderen Defends Title In High Altitude Races

van Garderen wins USA Pro Challenge '14

Aspen’s Tejay van Garderen, the top American in two of the last three Tours de France, is now the two-time defending USA Pro Challenge champion after a dominant performance in the world’s highest altitude professional cycling race in Colorado.

The 26-year-old BMC Racing star was sixth Sunday behind Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howe, who threw his bike over the line for a photo-finish win over Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) in the final 78-mile stage between Boulder and Denver — making it a 1-2 finish for Colorado cyclists.

Van Garderen cruised over safely in sixth, maintaining his 1 minute, 32-second advantage over second-place overall finisher Tom Danielson, another Colorado rider who was third last year and won his second straight Tour of Utah title earlier this month.

Sunday’s race was the culmination of seven-stage grind that kicked off in Aspen on Monday and passed through some of Colorado’s most iconic ski towns and resorts – from Crested Butte and Monarch Mountain to Breckenridge and Vail. Van Garderen built his insurmountable lead by breaking his own record in the Vail Pass Individual Time Trial on Saturday.

With crowds of up to 1 million lining courses over the entire week and the finale into Denver televised live on NBC Sunday, van Garderen says the Pro Challenge – now in its fourth year -- brings great exposure to the Colorado Rockies in the summer months.

Worldwide Audience 

“This is a race that I think has firm footing in the eyes of the world with it broadcasted in so many different countries,” van Garderen said. “I hope we can establish a tradition and soon this race will be one of the biggest historical races in the world.”

Van Garderen once again praised the massive crowds that turned out for the finale.

“It was incredible,” van Garderen said of Sunday’s stage through Golden and over Lookout Mountain. “The crowds were huge in Boulder, and it was just like a big crescendo coming into Denver. The crowds just got bigger and louder, and it just felt awesome.

“To come in here as the defending champion and to actually be able to defend the title, I felt like there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders this week, and the boys showed a lot of poise and we stayed in control.”

Garmin-Sharp’s Danielson finished in the pack and wound up second overall (1:32 back), while Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly) finished third in the final GC and was 1:46 off van Garderen’s pace.

German rider Jens Voigt of Trek Factory Racing was part of an early break on Sunday that dwindled to five riders over Lookout Mountain, and the crowd favorite managed to hold the lead until the final lap in Denver, where the peleton caught him and many riders patted him on the back on their way by. It was the retiring Voigt’s final professional race.

“I think I will need a few days and weeks to let that sink in. After 17 years of being one of the boys it will take a moment to change the way I look at things,” Voigt said. “I’m going to embrace my future with open arms and let’s see what challenges are coming ahead there.”

Home State Fans 

Van Garderen seemed almost as pleased to help win the team title for BMC as he was with his individual accolades in front of home-state fans.

“I really worked hard for this so it is really satisfying, especially to win such a great race in the state where I live,” van Garderen said. “It is made even better by the fact that we also won the team title. To be able to celebrate up there on the podium with all of my teammates was a proud moment.”

BMC Racing Team Sport Director Jackson Stewart said the race couldn’t have gone much better.

“Tejay handled the pressure of being defending champion well,” Stewart said. “All of the guys rallied around him every day and we showed just how strong we were by winning the team title. I am especially pleased with that achievement.”

Photo: Tejay van Garderen wins second straight USA Pro Challenge in Colorado (USA Pro Challenge)

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