Clarke Takes KOM Jersey, Reijnen Takes 2nd for UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team in USA Pro Challenge Opener
The men of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team began the 7-stage USA Pro Challenge today in the mountain town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Coming to the race with great momentum after a stage win and 3 days in the yellow jersey at the Tour of Utah, the riders earned another strong result on today’s stage with Kiel Reijnen taking 2nd place on the day and teammate Jonny Clarke claiming the polka dotted King of the Mountains jersey.
Lining up in the heart of downtown “Ski Town USA,” with a starting elevation of 6,695 feet above sea level, the riders embarked on the first of two undulating 46-mile laps through Routt County, south to Oak Creek, then north back towards Steamboat Springs to start the lap again. Throughout the 96.6-mile stage, the riders climbed over 6,500 feet, with two KOM opportunities and one intermediate sprint. After a neutral start in Steamboat Springs, the racing began with attacks launching off the front of the peloton. The group that finally succeeded in gapping the field included Jonny Clarke of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team along with 6 other riders. Approaching the first KOM competition, Clarke and others attacked, with Clarke taking second in the competition. After passing through Steamboat Springs again at the mid point of the race, the breakaway’s advantage grew to nearly 4 minutes. The riders began attacking again as they neared the second KOM opportunity for the day, with Jonny Clarke coming out on top. Clarke took maximum points at the line, tying Michael Torckler for the lead in the King of Mountains competition with final points available at the finish.
As the peloton began the final 50 kilometers of the race and the breakaway’s advantage began to shrink, the riders of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team turned their attention towards their finishing strategy. Once Jonny and his breakaway companions were back in the field, the team moved to the front with the goal of driving the pace to reduce the peloton before the finish. A counterattack by two riders with less than 10 miles remaining kept the peloton and the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team on the defensive, working hard to reel the riders in before the finale. After an exhausting last few kilometers, the final sprints began and Kiel Reijnen launched from the pack with the help of his teammates, taking 2nd on the day. Clarke finished strong after his long day in the breakaway, taking the best finish position out of his breakaway companions and claiming the King of the Mountains jersey after stage one.
“We knew there would be a lot of pressure on us today because of how we rode in Utah last week and after winning the first stage here last year. We went super hard up the climb at the end. The boys rode phenomenally to bring the last move back and you can see that cost us a lot,” Kiel Reijnen said of the team’s performance, “We definitely aren’t done yet. 2nd today was a good result, but we’re looking to win a stage. I’m super happy with how my team rode.” General manager and sporting director Mike Tamayo concluded, “At the Tour of Utah earlier this month, the boys gained a lot of confidence. We had a clear plan today and the guys executed perfectly. I’ve told my riders many times; if we get beaten by a sprinter, or beaten over a climb, that’s fine: teamwork always comes first. Today was a perfect example of this team taking control at the end of the race and working together.”
The USA Pro Challenge continues on Tuesday with Stage 2, a daunting 114.7-mile route from Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin, climbing 11,250 feet over Rabbit Ears Pass, through Kremmling, Silverthorne and Dillon, then up Loveland Pass.