ASPEN — Slovakian sprinter Peter Sagan won a sprint finish in the first stage of the third annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge Monday afternoon.

Three American riders from lower-ranked Continental teams, Craig Lewis of China-based Champion System, Matt Cooke of Jamis Hagens Berman and Ian Burnett of Jelly Belly, broke away from the pack early in Lap One of three 22-mile laps.

They built a lead as high as 2:30 before the peloton caught all but Cooke midway through the third lap. Cooke kept a 25-second lead before finally getting caught by seven riders, including Sagan, with five miles left.

"Maybe I was favored but for me, I'm very surprised," Sagan said. "I'm very happy. Thank for all my teammates because they were on the front.

A pack of cyclists head toward Snowmass from Aspen, before heading back again on Monday in the first stage of the USA Pro Challenge.
A pack of cyclists head toward Snowmass from Aspen, before heading back again on Monday in the first stage of the USA Pro Challenge. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

"I feel very good. For this, I'm surprised. It was only 100 kilometers. Maybe tomorrow it will be harder but I'm happy for today."

Sagan said of his team's strategy: "I attacked because we were a good group with eight riders. But when I was on the front, nobody wants to work with me. After that I said it's better to wait for the group and have a good sprint."

New Zealander George Bennett of RadioShack Leopard Trek and American Carter Jones of Bissell Pro Cycling dropped the group with four miles left to set up the finish. The peloton caught the pair with a little more than a half mile left.

Tour de France winner Chris Froome said altitude got the better of him. "It was pretty tough," Froome said after finishing 77th, 4:59 behind Sagan. "It's a bit of a shock to your system."

Tuesday's race is 126.1 miles from Aspen to Breckenridge.

John Henderson: 303-954-1299, jhenderson@denverpost.com or twitter.com/johnhendersondp