The leading edge of the peloton pedals up Rabbit Ears Pass above the Yampa River Valley on Saturday outside Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The leading edge of the peloton pedals up Rabbit Ears Pass above the Yampa River Valley on Saturday outside Steamboat Springs.

Peloton, Stage 5 leave Steamboat Springs behind

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First riders arrive just below Rabbit Ears Pass

The crowds came out en masse for the climb up Rabbit Ears Pass and the race to the King of the Mountain line

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Crowds assemble on Rabbit Ears Pass for Stage 5

Thousands of cycling fans and spectators lined the ascent of Rabbit Ears Pass on Saturday to cheer on the USA Pro Cycling Challenge racers

Thousands of cycling fans and spectators lined the ascent of Rabbit Ears Pass on Saturday to cheer on the USA Pro Cycling Challenge racers

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Pro Cycling Challenge riders enter U.S. 40 at Casey's Pond

After being led around the mountain area by police escort, the riders merge onto U.S. 40 to begin the ride toward the base of Rabbit Ears Pass

After being led around the mountain area by police escort, the riders merge onto U.S. 40 to begin the ride toward the base of Rabbit Ears Pass

— Andy Schleck pushed the pace for much of Saturday’s Stage 5 in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, but his efforts were mostly for naught as he and three other breakaway riders were swept up in the final mile. It set the stage for Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, of Team Liquigas-Cannondale, to do just what he had done in Steamboat Springs a day earlier — follow his teammates down the final stretch then bust through at the end to win a gritty drive to the finish line.

Viviani won his second stage in as many days and worked hard to hang on to the race’s green jersey Saturday, besting the field with a sprint at the finish in Breckenridge after a 105-mile ride from Steamboat Springs.

Levi Leipheimer managed to hang with the peloton through both the race’s steep climbs and emerged with the same 11-second grip on the yellow jersey with which he entered the day.

“Today was more difficult than we expected,” he told Versus TV after the stage concluded.

Stage 5 didn’t leave Steamboat the way Stage 4 came in: Friday afternoon’s action was highlighted by a crushing rush to the Lincoln Avenue finish line that filled the whole street and left thousands of fans feeling as if they’d been passed by a semitrailer on the interstate.

Stage 5 began as a slow, grueling climb. The peloton, riding as a massive and wide pack for much of Friday’s stage, was strung out as it worked its way up Rabbit Ears Pass, and several groups managed to break away in the

first half of the climb.

Most were gobbled back up by the main group. An attempt to get away by BMC rider and Tour de France champion Cadel Evans also was unsuccessful.

“The first climb, Rabbit Ears Pass out of Steamboat Springs, was long and hard and a lot of people suffered,” Leipheimer said after the race. “There were groups everywhere and it took another hour for everything to regroup.”

Still, two of the event’s biggest names did manage to slip away as the race wore on, with Schleck and Ivan Basso getting free in a four-man breakaway.

That group hung together until the day’s second big climb, up Swan Mountain. Schleck, second three times in the Tour de France, pushed to win the stage there, opening up a 15-second gap on the other three riders.

They caught him with several miles to go, however, and the peloton caught the foursome as the race wound through its final mile into Breckenridge.

“I was attacking on the last climb. That’s my strength, but it was not very long, so I couldn’t get more than 15 seconds out of it,” Schleck told Versus TV. “I had to gamble.

“I want to win a stage, and I picked (Friday) and (Saturday) when there could be a chance. I took the chance (Saturday), but it didn’t work. I might try again (today), or I’ll have to come back next year.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

Stage 5 Rabbit Ears Pass flyover video

Pro Cycling Challenge Rabbit Ears Summit from Beauregard: Steamboat Aerials on Vimeo.

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