Tejay van Garderen

Defending champ Tejay van Garderen made great strides towards a repeat with his late race charge to the stage win at the Monarch Mountain Ski Resort.

BMC team leader Tejay van Garderen proved he is king of the mountains during the queen stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge on Monarch Mountain. Taking the stage win and the overall lead, van Garderen dominated Stage 3 of the race. (See full results)

When van Garderen attacked late in the race out of a small group with a kilometer left in the 154.9-km race, only Majka - a Tour de France stage winner this year - could follow. The pair finished 20 seconds ahead of third-placed Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis) as van Garderen became the first rider in the four-year history of the race to win a stage three straight years. Van Garderen said he decided to make his move when he saw Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) in difficulty. Danielson was third to van Garderen at this race a year ago and last week won the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

"I could sense Danielson's attacks were getting a little weaker and he was tired from doing so much work," van Garderen said. "I was a little worried that Majka was going to come around me at the finish, but I was just able to hold him off."

Majka's second-place finish moved him into second overall, 20 seconds back, and three seconds ahead of third-placed Ben Hermans, van Garderen's teammate who was third on Stage 1. Hermans finished fourth on the stage, 24 seconds back.

"I was feeling good and responding to the attacks of Danielson until two kilometers to go, then the attitude was hard for me," Hermans said. "I suffered hard. And when Tejay attacked, I could not follow. He went away like a motorbike."

In winning his second race of the season, van Garderen also took the lead in the king of the mountains classification and earned the "best Colorado rider" jersey. His other victory this year also came on a mountain-top finish, at the Volta a Catalunya, in late March. "I feel good and I have the advantage of living at altitude and being acclimated," van Garderen said. "Plus, there is the fact that I have the home crowd on my side as well as the strongest team in the race."

legs

Riders await the start of stage 3 on a sunny morning in Gunnison, Colorado.

During stage 3 riders faced the testing uphill finish at base of the Monarch Mountain ski resort, and they had to pass over Monarch Pass itself first, giving spectators a chance to see the race multiple times from the same vantage point.

Starting in Gunnison, the race went east for 35 miles before tackling the 11,300 ft. Monarch Pass. The riders then descended the eastern slope of the pass and completed two 9-mile loops through Salida and the surrounding countryside. Then they tackled nearly 20 miles of climbing to the finish at 10,800 ft. Monarch Mountain Ski Area.

After a 6.9-mile neutral start out of town, the riders didn't waste any time and immediately started launching attacks, traveling at 32 mph. With a lot of activity on the front, none of the breaks were able to stick and everyone was still riding together at 35K into the race.

At 50K, five riders, including Michael Koch (GER) of Cannondale Pro Cycling, Jeff Louder (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) of Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home, Jacob Rathe (USA) of Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis and Bernie Sulzberger (AUS) of Drapac Pro Cycling, broke away and gained a slight advantage, but then were reeled back in as they headed into the first Sierra Nevada KOM of the day at Monarch Pass.

A Cat. 1 climb at 11,312 ft. with a 2,743 ft. elevation gain, Monarch Pass would prove to be a test for the riders, splitting the field into several different groups. Janier Acevedo (COL) of Team Garmin-Sharp put his climbing skills on display by pulling ahead and, with his team setting a tough pace in the group just behind, the break was cut down to just eight riders. Included in this group were Tejay van Garderen (USA) and Ben Hermans (BEL) of BMC Racing Team; Rafał Majka (POL), Michael Rogers (AUS) and Paweł Poljański (POL) of Tinkoff-Saxo; Tom Danielson (USA) and Acevedo; and Carter Jones (USA) of Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies.

Lined with fans, the climb up Monarch Pass destroyed the field and broke the riders up into several small groups. Reaching the top of the climb first was Hermans, followed by Danielson and Poljański. With about a 50-second advantage, the break screamed down the back side of the climb, past the stage finish and on to Salida where they would complete two laps before heading back toward the finish.

With the first Lexus Sprint Line in Salida fast approaching, Acevedo hit the line first, followed by Poljański and Hermans. Soon after, Rogers broke off, as the rest of the break was absorbed back into the chase.

As they continued on through the town, several attacks were made out of the chase, but didn't stick. Then, just as Rogers hit the second sprint line of the day, taking max points, Lucas Euser (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team and Daniel Jaramillo (COL) of Jamis-Hagens Berman managed to escape and start the chase. Euser crossed the line second and Jaramillo third.

As the riders left the town of Salida, Rogers maintained a 1:10 lead over the first chase group with Euser and Jaramillo, and 20 seconds behind them was the second chase group, which included GC leader Alex Howes (USA) of Team Garmin-Sharp. With only 16.5 miles to go, the chasers were reabsorbed, tightening up the race.

With 25K of uphill course left to go, the riders approached the second KOM of the day, a Cat. 2 climb on Monarch Mountain with an average grade of 3 percent, but a grade of 9 percent at its steepest point. With a strong headwind on the course, the riders started to make their way up the climb.

At 8K to go the attacks began and, as the tempo picked up, riders began to fall off the back. With about 14 riders left in the front group, Danielson tried to push the pace to get time on van Garderen. Finally Matthew Busche (USA) of Trek Factory Racing launched an attack and put a gap between him and the group, but alas, that wouldn't stick either. With 1K left in the race, van Garderen hit the gas and attacked, a move which would take him all the way to the finish line. Under beautiful skies and a picturesque backdrop at the Monarch Mountain Ski Resort, van Garderen crossed the line first, followed by Majka and Serghei Tvetcov (ROM) of Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis.

Van Garderen now holds three jerseys, including the Smashburger Leader Jersey, Sierra Nevada King of the Mountains Jersey and the Colorado National Guard Best Colorado Rider Jersey. Rogers was awarded the FirstBank Most Aggressive Rider Jersey for his riding in the breakaway. The other jerseys remained unchanged, with Kiel Reijnen (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team holding onto the Lexus Sprint Jersey and Clément Chevrier (FRA) of Bissell Development Team maintaining the Colorado State University Best Young Rider Jersey.

Van Garderen said he is confident the team has enough horsepower to hold the lead through to Saturday's individual time trial in Vail. Last year, he won the time trial in record time en route to the overall win.

"We had to control yesterday and we had to control today because both days, the yellow jersey team had no interest in defending the lead," he said. "So this makes it more straightforward and we have an incredibly strong team here. So I am not worried at all."

Stage 4 Tomorrow

Thursday, Aug. 21 - Colorado Springs Circuit Race (119.1 km/74 mi)
Start Time: 12:50 p.m. MT
Estimated Finish Time: 3:47 p.m. MT

Colorado Springs keeps reinventing itself as a host city. In 2011 it hosted a prologue, in 2012 it was a fast road stage finish for sprinters and for 2014 it will be a challenging circuit that could contain a surprise general classification shake up. After a ceremonial start at the world famous Broadmoor, the race will head into town and join up with a 16-mile circuit that will be raced four times. With climbs through Garden of the Gods, Mesa Rd. and the infamous Ridge Rd., which hits grades of nearly 17 percent, the route will present some challenges for the riders. If a sprinter hangs on to win, they will have earned it the hard way.

How to Watch the 2014 USA Pro Challenge

3:30-6 p.m. ET NBC Sports Live Coverage
10-11 p.m. ET Universal Sports Recap