BRECKENRIDGE — Few sights in this week's USA Pro Challenge will look prettier to the peloton than Breckenridge did on a picture-perfect Tuesday afternoon.
After a 126.1-mile trek from Aspen, including climbs up 12,096-foot Independence Pass and 11,542-foot Hoosier Pass and a steep, punchy jaunt up 10,000-foot Boreas Pass, the finish line looked like a Lanai chair in heaven.
But no rider likely enjoyed Breckenridge more than Lachlan Morton. For a moment, forget that the 21-year-old Australian had been coming here with his family every summer since he was 13.
On this trip, his arrival ended with him donning a yellow jersey.
Morton's second-place finish by three seconds Tuesday gave him and Boulder-based Team Garmin-Sharp the overall lead by two seconds over stage winner Mathias Frank of BMC Racing.
"It's incredible," Morton said. "I've been coming here for eight years. To ride into town today was really cool, and to pull on the yellow jersey was awesome as well."
Morton is one of the many young phenoms in Garmin-Sharp's stable. He and his Australian junior team used to train in Breckenridge. He eventually signed with Garmin-Sharp's developmental team at 16 and moved to Boulder three years later. His dad, David, loved their trips to Colorado so much he moved to Boulder two years ago and opened Magswitch, a magnet company in Westminster.
Lachlan Morton splits his time among Boulder, Australia and Girona, Spain, but Breckenridge remains special.
"Breckenridge is one of the most beautiful towns in all of Colorado," Morton said. "As soon as we came here, we loved it, and every summer we put our hands up to come back.
"Whenever I get a chance for a few weeks of training, I come here. It's relaxed. It's a really nice community, and the training's amazing."
He also knows these mountains like some of the local wildlife. He joined Frank and American Lawson Craddock of Bontrager Cycling on a breakaway up Hoosier Pass.
On the last climb of the day up Boreas, Frank left Morton and reached the summit alone. Frank won the stage in 5 hours, 5 minutes, 19 seconds.
"To start, I thought it would be an advantage to know the last hill, but maybe it was better not to know what was coming," Morton said. "I knew how hard it was going to be."
Morton won't hold the lead unless he has the time trial of his life Friday in Vail. It will be just as important to teammate Tom Danielson, who lost 11 seconds to race favorite Tejay van Garderen, a fellow Colorado resident for BMC.
Van Garderen is fourth overall, 11 seconds back and tied with Monday's leader, Peter Sagan. Danielson is sixth, 29 seconds behind Morton. Danielson chased van Garderen and Sagan up Boreas but lost ground.
"(Van Garderen) was able to jump me at the top, which I didn't want him to do, but today was his day to take advantage of me," Danielson said. "He had Sagan with him, so it was him and Sagan versus me."
This is now van Garderen's race to lose, although Danielson is in prime form after winning the Tour of Utah two weeks ago.
"Sagan put in a real punchy effort, and Tom's not punchy," team CEO Jonathan Vaughters said. "He's a steady Eddie kind of guy. But I don't think (11 seconds) will be relative when it comes down to the time trial and (Thursday's) Beaver Creek stage.
"Tom just has to be the strongest rider of the day."
John Henderson: 303-954-1299, jhenderson@ denverpost.com
Stage 2 at a glance
Big winners: Tejay van Garderen, who's splitting residences between Boulder and Aspen, finished fourth Tuesday and is fourth overall, only 11 seconds back. Peter Sagan, a sprinter, finished a surprising third to tie van Garderen overall.
Falling back: With Sky Pro Racing stars Chris Froome and Richie Porte struggling Monday, Sky's next GC star was American Joe Dombrowski. He finished 1:02 behind and is 1:04 back overall.
What's next: 105.9 miles from Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs. It goes downhill through Silverthorne and Kremmling before going up 9,426-foot Rabbit Ears Pass, then a long descent into Ski Town USA.