The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team took on stage 3 of the USA Pro Challenge today, starting in Copper Mountain and finishing 101.4 miles and 8274 feet of climbing later in the mountain town of Aspen, Colorado.
The UnitedHealthcare Blue Train went into the race marked as favorites for the stage win after Kiel Reijnen sprinted to victory in Aspen one year prior on the opening stage of the 2014 edition. Reijnen and the team met and exceeded all expectations with another triumphant sprint victory, made possible by dedicated teamwork throughout the entire stage.
The riders took a scenic but grueling route to Aspen, ascending Fremont Pass followed by a rolling traverse as the race went around Turquoise Lake and through the town of Leadville before heading up Independence Pass, the final climb of the day.
The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team focused on keeping sprinter Kiel Reijnen protected throughout the stage. The team let the breakaway go for the day, but kept tabs on the move with the help of Team BMC, which currently holds the race leader’s yellow jersey.
At the base of the Independence Pass climb, Jonny Clarke raced into an elite move that organized to bring back the breakaway, while Chris Jones, Danny Summerhill, Tanner Putt, and John Murphy stayed close to Reijnen, keeping his legs fresh for the climb and sprint ahead.
As the winds shifted and the pace increased on the climb up Independence Pass, Reijnen found himself in trouble, struggling to stay with the climbers. “Rather than going too hard and too deep, I just had to ride my own pace,” said Reijnen, confident that his teammates could come to his aid and return him to the front of the race.
Dedicated teammate and excellent climber Janez Brajkovič stayed with Reijnen, while Jonny Clarke covered the front of the race for the team. With about a kilometer and a half to go, Reijnen still had Brajkovič by his side, as well as Marco Canola, who had bridged up to help pace him over the summit of the climb and protect him from the high mountain wind.
Familiar with the Colorado terrain and especially the steep, winding road into Aspen, Reijnen led the way and the trio was able to make up time on the descent and reconnect with the charging field. “It took a huge amount of teamwork to get me back. I trusted the guys to do it and they were willing to sacrifice their race to come back and get me.”
The team had successfully raced Kiel back into contention for the stage win before the group came flying onto the streets of Aspen, and were still by his side to help him finish the task. “Once we were back in the group, we knew it was a good situation since we had numbers,” said Reijnen. With a total of four UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team riders present in the finale, Janez Brajkovič and Jonny Clarke were able to cover attacks, while Marco Canola protected Reijnen for the lead out.
Around the final turn, Team Axeon rider Logan Owen jumped first out of the final corner. Kiel Reijnen was in great position, safely on the wheel of teammate Marco Canola. Sheltered by the lead out from Canola, Reijnen jumped across to Owen’s wheel and was able to overtake the rider for the win, pounding his chest with pride as he crossed the finish line.
The stunning victory put Reijnen back in possession of the green jersey, signifying his lead of the sprinter’s category. Canola held on for a top-10 finish in the sprint after delivering Reijnen for the win. Jonny Clarke remains 3rd in the general classification as the road tilts up again along the 125.8-mile route from Aspen to Breckenridge on stage 4.
“It was all teamwork. We were lucky that BMC had similar tactics since they wanted to keep the race together for Bookwalker, so they helped us keep it in check, but my teammates did an unbelievable job to pace me back after the climb,” commented stage winner and green jersey leader Kiel Reijnen, “I was definitely in difficulty those last couple of kilometers, but they did a big load of work to get me back in there. We came here to win a stage and we did it. We’re not done yet, but I’m really pleased with how the team is riding here this week.”