Prepare for a blinding finish during Stage 4 in Steamboat |

Prepare for a blinding finish during Stage 4 in Steamboat

Luke Graham

Tejay Van Garderen races Thursday toward the finish line in Stage 3 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Vail. Stage 4 will roll into Steamboat Springs on Friday from Avon.

— Regardless of the race standings or the makeup of the remaining three stages, the top two riders in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge aren't ready to concede anything with Friday’s Stage 4 bringing the field from Avon to Steamboat Springs.

The stage covers 82.8 miles and climbs 5,034 feet. By comparison, Stage 2, which took riders over Cottonwood and Independence passes, had a climb of 9,746 feet.

But wind and other mitigating factors should provide intrigue for Friday. 

"There are time bonuses, they are always dangerous," Levi Leipheimer said about Friday’s stage. "There's wind. There's still some climbing left. The race can change and turn on its head at any moment. There is a lot of unknown factors."

As an example of how quickly things can happen in professional cycling, Leipheimer pointed to Wednesday's crash involving Daniele Callegarin, who was forced to withdraw after a crash in the peloton caused by a cattle guard in the road. 

"I was very lucky to miss that," he said. "That's something you can't control. Anything can happen. You have to keep that in your head and stay alert. You don't make any mistakes."

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Colorado Highway 131's rolling terrain from Wolcott through Oak Creek is expected to provide ample opportunity for sprinters and others seeking to break away. 

With a 10-second bonus at a sprint line in downtown Oak Creek, things could get interesting. But more than likely a weaker team will break out early. The general classification riders will watch one another to prevent any serious moves in the standings. A contending rider who attempts to break away from the pack likely will be chased down and reined in.  

Still, Christian Vande Velde said his 11-second deficit in the overall standings isn't too far out of reach. Despite widespread reports saying the race would be won Wednesday and Thursday, Vande Velde said there is still a possibility of making up time.

"It's not over," he said. "Everything I've read has been unbelievably wrong. I've been taken aback, actually."

Friday’s finish should provide some of the most thrilling action. As riders turn onto U.S. Highway 40 toward Steamboat, expect a full-on sprint with rides reaching speeds of 40 mph. The finish line is at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue. Riders could arrive in town as early as 3:30 p.m., though officials expect a more likely finish between 3:45 and 4:15 p.m.

Stage 4 overview

Distance: 82.8 miles

Total climb: 5,034 feet

Start: 12:30 p.m. Friday in Avon

Estimated finish: Between 3:30 and 4 p.m. in Steamboat Springs

Sprint line: Downtown Oak Creek (riders estimated arrival time: 3 p.m.)

Course: Riders will take U.S. Highway 6 from Avon to West Beaver Creek Boulevard to Colo. 131 north at Wolcott. Course will follow Colo. 131 through Oak Creek to Routt County Road 14F near the Haymaker Golf Course. Riders will turn right onto River Road (C.R. 14) and then head right onto Mount Werner Road and over the Tree Haus Bridge before turning onto U.S. 40 and heading into downtown Steamboat via the eastbound lanes of U.S. 40. Finish is at Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue.

TV: Live coverage begins at 2 p.m. on Versus (Comcast channel 52)

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