“We must attack,” says Santiago Botero, the director sportif of Gobernacion De Antioquia.
We’re in the team car rolling across the valley before the second and final 12,000 foot monster, Independence Pass. It’s the queen stage of the US Pro Cycling Challenge and this is the day for high altitude aggression.
If any squad looks forward to this terrible suffering and oxygen deprivation, its the Colombians who live at altitude.
Botero brought his attacking Colombian riders fresh from their success in the recent Tour of Utah and he wants “a stage win and a podium.” So far, so good. He’s got two riders in a six man break and then a third Colombian from the rival EPM team bridges up.
It’s a Latin fiesta headed for the sky and Botero has high hopes.
But Radio Shack, the team of race leader Levi Leipheimer, keeps the leash tight at no more than four minutes, slices that in half and kills them before the climb to Independence even begins.
Still, this is their one best chance for a stage win, a David versus ProTour Goliath victory over at the big tour teams. The Gobernacion De Antioquia operating budget is a million euros — by any measure, a fraction of the riches that fund the top teams.
Botero doesn’t even have rollers for this race and has to borrow them from other teams. BMC loaned him a seat or two, domestic squad Kelly Benefit got them a box of water bottles. But Botero will tell you that simple bike racing truism: what matters most is the legs and the motivation.
His guys ride hard, they take risks, they don’t give a shit who you are. They haven’t got the strength in numbers to control races, so they make a second choice — they detonate races.
Near the top Sergio Henao, the young man who won a stage from Leipheimer in Utah, attacks but is brought back.
It’s a large group that goes over the top of Independence together and Tejay Van Garderen dicides to chop it down. You might call Tejay an honorary Colombian because he attacks on the wet, dangerous descent. After the stage, he said “I have balls.”
Yeah, cojones in Colorado. But the men from South American aren’t done just yet. In the final 10 k into Aspen, Janier Acevedo takes his own risks on the slick roads, accelerates hard to the finish and takes 5th. His countryman Eduard Beltran of EPM does him one better with forth, just knocked off the podium by Danielson.
It wasn’t the glorious spectacle Botero had in mind — no stage win and a GC podium slipping away. Still, it’s an impressive win of sorts, an under-funded team with borrowed gear animating the race and scaring the hell out of the ProTour giants.
In this exciting first edition of the US Pro Cycling Challenge, it may be the best story in the race.