The top three from stage 2: Morton, Fränk and Sagan.

Stage 2 of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge professional cycling race took riders to extraordinary heights on the route from Aspen to Breckenridge. At 126.1 miles, the stage, which was punctuated by three Nissan King of the Mountains competitions and two Clif Bar sprint lines, tested the riders' strength and endurance in the mountains of Colorado. An impressive turnout of fans welcomed and cheered on the cyclists as they hit the streets of Breckenridge, where Mathias Fränk (BMC) ultimately took home the win, while Garmin-Sharp's Lachlan Morton snagged the yellow jersey away from Cannondale's Peter Sagan.

"I just made it over the top and from then on, I could hardly pedal any more," said Fränk of the race's final testing moments. "I didn't recover until the finish. But luckily, I'm not the only one here with this problem (dealing with the high altitude). I had to go super deep on that last steep pitch."

The race started with two neutral laps around the City of Aspen under bright blue skies, then the riders were off for Stage 2, which would provide a harsh introduction to the mountainous terrain of Colorado with three big climbs. After a series of unsuccessful initial attacks, Michael Schär (BMC) finally launched one that stuck. He was soon joined by Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman-Sutter Home) and Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly-Kenda).

The gap continued to grow as the riders climbed the familiar battleground of Independence Pass, which at 12,000 feet, is the highest point of the race. The well-known, epic climb drew fans from all around the world to cheer on the riders as they suffered to the top. With enthusiastic costumed fans running alongside, Schär crested the pass first, followed by Cooke and Lemus.

The stage 2 route.

Leading into the approach to the Feed Zone, hitting speeds of more than 35 mph, David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Kanstantin Siutsou (Sky) pulled away from the peloton to start the chase and eventually reached the three out front to form a break of five riders as they zoomed through Buena Vista.

A little more than three hours into the race, as the course prepared to turn back uphill, the peloton hit the gas and with RadioShack Nissan Trek and Cannondale Pro Cycling leading the way, they began to close the gap, eventually swallowing up the break. Soon after though a new break was formed with 13 riders pulling away, including:
  • Rohan Dennis (AUS) of Team Garmin-Sharp
  • Lachlan David Morton (USA) of Team Garmin-Sharp
  • Joshua Edmondson (GBR) of Sky Procycling
  • Andy Schleck (LUX) of RadioShack Leopard Trek
  • Tiago Machado (POR) of RadioShack Leopard Trek
  • Mathias Fränk (SWI) of BMC Racing Team
  • Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) of BMC Racing Team
  • Bruno Pires (POR) of Team Saxo-Tinkoff
  • Davide Villella (ITA) of Cannondale Pro Cycling
  • Chad Beyer (USA) of Champion System Pro Cycling Team
  • Christopher Jones (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team
  • Phil Gaimon (USA) of Bissell Pro Cycling
  • Lawson Craddock (USA) of Bontrager Cycling Team
  • Tyler Wren (USA) of Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home
  • Jesse Anthony (USA) of Optum Presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies
"We just had to have representation in the breakaway because it's always better to be in front than to be chasing," said Morton. "We put two in it, which took the pressure off the other guys."

As the break approached the second and final sprint of the day in Fairplay, Van Avermaet attacked and crossed the line first, followed by Schleck and Beyer. With two more climbs and 26 miles to go to the finish in Breckenridge, it was still anybody's stage.

Sagan started the day in yellow.

On the climb up Hoosier Pass, riders began to drop off the break. Morton however saw an opportunity and started pulling away to take the maximum KOM points, followed by Fränk and Craddock. Taking the descent at speeds around 50 mph, the three riders grouped together with a few members of the original break following behind and the peloton still on the chase.

Reaching the final KOM of the day at Boreas Pass, Fränk rode through the sea of fans to crest the summit first, followed by Morton and Craddock. Now, with only 2.5 miles to go, the pressure was really on. Knowing it was now or never, Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) and Darwin Atapuma (COLOMBIA) made a move out of the peloton to catch the break. And in a sprint through Breckenridge, Fränk took the stage win, followed close behind by Morton and Sagan.

"I really had one shot, and today I knew that I could make it there on the short, steep climb," said Fränk. "I definitely had the plan to go for the stage win today. The altitude here really got to me. I really had to go super deep there at the finish. Now I have a stage win here and I'm really happy with that."

In the race for the jerseys, Morton claimed the Smashburger Leader Jersey and the Colorado State University Best Young Rider Jersey. Sagan held onto the Clif Bar Sprint Jersey, as did Cooke to the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey. The FirstBank Most Courageous Rider Jersey went to Fränk for his impressive racing.

Stage Results

1. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team in 5:05:19
2. Lachlan David Morton (Aus) Garmin-Sharp at 0:00:03
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:14
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team same time
5. Lawson Craddock (USA) Bontrager 0:00:21

General Classification

1. Lachlan David Morton (Aus) Garmin-Sharp 7:31:22
2. Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:00:02
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:11
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team same time
5. Lawson Craddock (USA) Bontrager 0:00:18

Stage 3 - Wednesday, Aug. 21 - Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs (170.4 km/105.9 mi)

Start Time: 12:10 a.m. MT
Estimated Finish Time: 4:30 p.m. MT
Satellite Feed Time: 5:30-5:45 p.m. MT

Stage 3 will be another tough day in the saddle.

Stage 3 will be difficult to predict for even the biggest cycling fans. Can the climbers hold off the field or can the sprinters hang on? Stage 3 of this year's USA Pro Challenge is wide open for the taking. After leaving Breckenridge, Swan Mountain Rd. provides a great launch pad for breakaways as the riders weave north to Kremmling, but it's all just a prelude to the day's main showdown on Rabbit Ears Pass. Climbing the challenging eastern slope will give the climbers a chance, but they will have to hold off the sprinters for 20 miles after cresting the top as they head downtown Steamboat Springs. Can they do it? Or will there be a repeat of 2011's thrilling and monstrous field sprint?