BEAVER CREEK | Germany’s Jens Voigt won the rainy fourth stage of the USA Pro Challenge with a long solo effort Thursday, and American Tejay Van Garderen regained his tiebreaker edge for the overall lead.
Voigt, at 40 the oldest rider in the race, completed the 97.2-mile road race from Aspen in 3 hours, 54 minutes to win by nearly 3 minutes. The RadioShack-Nissan rider has 88 career pro victories.
Van Garderen, the BMC rider who grew up in Bozeman, Mont., and lives in Boulder, Colo., finished third in the stage — just behind Germany’s Andreas Kloden of RadioShack-Nissan — and regained the race lead from Christian Vande Velde.
Vande Velde, the Garmin-Sharp rider from Lemont, Ill., and van Garderen have a 6-second lead over Russia’s Ivan Rovny. Vande Velde was sixth in the stage.
“It’s nice to have the (leader’s) jersey, but I attacked more looking for seconds,” said van Garderen, the top American in the Tour de France with a fifth-place overall finish. “So it’s too bad I wasn’t able to get time. But the jersey is always nice to have.”
Voigt, who will turn age 41 next month, moved into a solo race lead early in the stage as the field began the climb to Independence Pass (elevation 12,500 feet). He rode alone in the lead for nearly four hours and for all but the first four miles of the stage.
“When it’s rainy and windy, it’s good for me,” said Voigt, a 16-year pro who claimed his first major win in more than two years. “Because I know the others will suffer more than me.”
A three-time Tour de France stage winner, Voigt began the stage in 46th position overall, trailing the race leaders by nearly 12 minutes. Because he wasn’t a threat for the overall lead, the field was content not to pursue when he broke away.
With Voigt’s solo win, the race lead was again determined at the front of the main field. Vande Velde closed in the final 100 yards, but wasn’t able to keep van Garderen’s pace.
“It was tough,” said van Garderen of the stage early climb to Independence Pass, which the riders negotiated for the second straight day but in the reverse direction. “But it was gradual, so it was not as hard (as the third stage) and would it flatten out a bit, so people could recover and come back.”
Defending race champion Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Santa Rosa, Calif., remained fourth overall, trailing by 8 seconds.
The seven-day race continues Friday with a 117.9-mile stage 5 from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs road race. The largely downhill stage will begin with a 10-mile opening climb to Hoosier Pass at 11,500 feet. A few other small climbs will test the field but the long downhill finished will likely mean a sprint finish.
The original field of 123 rider who began the race Monday in Durango was reduced to 103 after seven riders didn’t finish the fourth stage.
The 683-mile race will end Sunday with a short individual time trial in Denver.