Boulder, Colo. (Aug. 25, 2012) – In a battle to the finish, Stage 6 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge came to a close when Rory Sutherland (AUS) of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team crossed the line at the top of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder first, followed by Fabio Aru (ITA) of Astana Pro Team and Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek. In what has been a constant battle for the overall lead, Defending Champion Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep heads into the final day of the race wearing the Exergy Leader Jersey, nine seconds up on Christian Vande Velde (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda and 21 seconds ahead of Tejay van Garderen (USA) of BMC Racing Team.
“Today was amazing; I saw all kinds of colorful characters up on Flagstaff and it was inspiring,” said Leipheimer. “I knew I had to save my strength for today. When I was nearing the finish, I just focused on giving it everything I had. Today was one of the most beautiful days of cycling I’ve ever seen.”
The penultimate stage of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge took the riders from returning host city Golden to one of the most legendary cycling cities in the U.S. – Boulder – on a 102.8m/165.5 km route that included the epic climb of Flagstaff Mountain. Featuring three Waste Management sprints and two Nissan King of the Mountains competitions in addition to Flagstaff, the stage was challenging and hotly contested.
The stage began with several attacks and counter-attacks, but nothing stuck until a 14-man breakaway that would last for a good part of the stage. Upon reaching the first Waste Management sprint in Boulder, Serghei Tvetcov (MOL) of Team Exergy crossed the line first, followed by Sutherland and Stage 4 winner Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek.
Heading toward the first KOM of the day – Cat. 2 Boulder Canyon (8,231 ft.) – the breakaway riders traveled through a classic mountain tunnel climbing at a speed of 22 mph, with Alex Howes (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda taking max points, followed by EPM-UNE riders Francisco Jarley Colorado Hernandez (COL) and Robigzon Leandro Oyola Oyola (COL).
Descending at speeds of up to 62 mph, the break screamed down the hill toward the second Waste Management sprint line of the day in Lyons, where Tvetcov took max points, followed by Timmy Duggan (USA) of Liquigas-Cannondale and Voigt.
After making the turn onto Lefthand Canyon, Voigt launched an attack with his teammate George Bennett (NZL) to ultimately spring Bennett into a solo break heading toward the second KOM of the day – Cat. 2 Lee Hill Rd. (7,008 ft.). With only seven riders left in the original break, Bennett crested the hill first, followed by Colorado and Voigt.
With only two minutes over the field, the break saw several attacks heading toward the final Waste Management sprint of the day in Boulder, which was taken by Voigt, followed by Tvetcov and Aru. With Voigt out slightly in front of the break, Sutherland launched an attack that would take him out in front and lead to him powering up the mountain all the way across the finish line.
“Flagstaff is such a beautiful mountain,” said Sutherland. “I can’t even describe the beauty of cycling in Colorado and how much it means to win in my hometown of Boulder. This is definitely the biggest win of my career.”
In a battle for the general classification, with about 5 km to go attacks were launched off the front of the field, which allowed Leipheimer to pull away and take fourth in the stage, placing him at the top of the GC.
“The competitive level of racing we’ve seen at the 2012 USA Pro Challenge has made it one of the closest major stage races in the history of the sport,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the Pro Challenge. “With Levi taking over the lead today under the picturesque backdrop of Flagstaff Mountain and the largest, most enthusiastic crowds I’ve ever seen at a U.S. stage race cheering him on, we couldn’t have asked for a better day of racing.”
As part of the awards ceremony actor Patrick Dempsey presented Leipheimer with the Exergy Leader Jersey.
“With the individual time trial tomorrow in Denver, it is still anyone’s race,” added Hunter.
“We’re primed for an incredibly exciting finish to the 2012 USA Pro Challenge.”
In a shakeup of the jerseys, Leipheimer took the Exergy Leader Jersey and Voigt claimed the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey. Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski (USA) of Bontrager Livestrong Team maintained the Aquadraat Best Young Rider Jersey and Tyler Farrar (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda the Waste Management Sprint Jersey. Sutherland was awarded the Evolve Most Aggressive Rider Jersey.