BEAVER CREEK — Boulder's Tom Danielson crested 9,560-foot Bachelor Gulch on Thursday and looked down at a descent that could make or break his USA Pro Challenge. A 2,000-foot downhill ride, slick from rain hammering the pavement, could definitely break more than his chances.
Tejay van Garderen, the prerace favorite and new Aspen resident, was on his rear wheel with the same view.
Throwing caution to the rain and hungry to make up for a disappointing USA Pro Challenge in 2011, van Garderen flew down the mountain like a runaway bobsled. He and Colombian Janier Acevedo left Danielson in the rain as van Garderen took a firm grip on the yellow jersey.
Van Garderen allowed Acevedo, of the Continental team Jamis-Hagens Berman, to win Stage 4. But van Garderen took the overall lead over BMC Racing teammate Mathias Frank by four seconds. Acevedo is in third place, 30 seconds back. Danielson lost 22 seconds and is 40 seconds back in fourth place going into Friday's crucial Vail time trial.
Boulder's Matt Cooke kept the king of the mountain jersey for the fourth straight day.
"As soon as the descent started, it was wet and tricky," van Garderen said. "Janier took one corner pretty hot and Tom Danielson looked like he was a little timid. I thought, 'OK, let's go for it.' "
Danielson didn't use the word "timid." Amazed? Maybe. He couldn't believe what he saw from van Garderen and Acevedo.
"They were just taking risks and sliding all over the yellow line," Danielson said. "I just didn't do that. I was beaten by a better guy."
Careening down slick, windy streets at 50 mph has led to the end of many careers, not to mention bones. It's not advisable for recreational riders, but van Garderen has a couple of keys. One, he said BMC's Continental tires are especially good in the rain.
"You want to avoid touching your front break," he said, "because if you touch your front break in the corners, you're going to slide out."
Van Garderen claims he's not a great descender in the rain, but Danielson won last year's stage to Aspen with an epic descent down Independence Pass. However, it was dry that day.
"I would think Tom's a little frustrated right now," van Garderen said. "That's understandable. But at the end of the day, every inch of the road, we're racing on. If you have a weakness in any area, it's going to show through."
The plan was for Danielson's Boulder-based Team Garmin-Sharp to break van Garderen on the way up Bachelor Gulch. The trio, plus Frank, had broken from the peloton shortly before the ascent and Danielson made numerous attacks.
On each one, van Garderen was on his wheel, occasionally drafting off Frank.
"I thought I could drop him," Danielson said, "but I couldn't."
Meanwhile, Acevedo continued his fine year. This stage win came on the heels of third-place finishes in the tours of California and Utah.
"I was feeling very good during the week and I had a tremendous day," Acevedo said through a translator. "I was confident. When it was going so hard, I had good legs."
Stage 4 at a glance
Big winner: Tejay van Garderen put himself on the inside rail to finish in Denver with the yellow jersey. He smoked the field in the queen stage Thursday, refusing to back down from Tom Danielson's continuous attacks up Bachelor Gulch.
Falling back: Luxembourger Andy Schleck of RadioShack Leopard Trek started the day within striking distance, 1:18 behind the leader. He finished in 41st place, 9:13 back, and fell 10:31 behind van Garderen.
What's next: The Vail time trial made famous during the Red Zinger and Coors Classic returns Friday after a one-year absence. It's 10 miles straight up Vail Pass Trail and starts at 1:05 p.m.
John Henderson, The Denver Post