As he did in the Tour of Utah, Lachlan Morton surrendered his leader's jersey in in loyal service to his more experienced teammate Tom Danielson today in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. As the peloton hit the penultimate climb up Bachelor Gulch, Morton's yellow jersey could be sighted setting a fierce tempo at the front of the ever dwindling peloton, his race numbers flapping in the wind as he steadily whittled the group down to a mere five riders.
But this time, Danielson would not profit from his teammate's selfless dedication. As he pressed the pace, he shed Damiano Caruso of Cannondale and BMC's Matthias Frank in that order as he reeled in and rode straight by the last remaining survivor of the breakaway. But as a summer thunderstorm dumped water on the riders in the last twenty kilometers, Danielson was put on the back foot. Janier Acevedo, the Colombian climber on Jamis - Hagens Bermen who finished second at the Tour of California in May, applied pressure on the descent and Tejay van Garderen matched him. As the duo skittered across the road paint in the hairpins on the drop towards the final short finishing climb, Danielson hesitated, unwilling to take the risks his companions were.
Once again, van Garderen was taking the race by its balls in dicey conditions, something he has done in the two previous editions of the Pro Cycling Challenge. After allowing Acevedo to take the stage win after the duo collaborated so well, van Garderen now leads the race by 30 seconds over Acevedo and 40 over Danielson. And with the BMC rider being the better time trialist on paper, one starts to wonder - is the race over already?
Friday's stage leaves from Vail and meanders up a valley road for half its 16 kilometer distance before starting to climb moderately until the finish. The gradients are not steep and most, if not all, of the favorites will opt for pure time trial setups, only perhaps swapping the typical disc rear wheel for something a bit more svelte. But, van Garderen lost over forty seconds to Levi Leipheimer two years ago in the same time trial and his form has been spotty since his victory in the Tour of California in May. Danielson is no slouch against the clock - or at least in a time trial like this - but it is hard to see him taking enough time out of van Garderen to pull himself into the lead tomorrow. Saturday could pose an opportunity to spring a trip on the road and isolate a GC leader, but everything would have to fall perfectly into place, and then some, given the merely rolling last hour of racing. And, well, if Tom Danielson gains 30 seconds in an overgrown crit in Denver on Sunday, I'll find a hat and eat it. As for Acevedo, Tejay bested him on an even more climb-heavy time trial in California, so don't expect him to make inroads tomorrow.
Until his win at the Tour of California this year van Garderen was seen as a talented GC contender, but not a closer. Now, he seems poised to make up for a lackluster Tour de France and cement his ability to manage the stresses of team and race leadership by riding into Denver in yellow.