COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Patrick Gretsch got off to a fast start in the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, finishing almost two seconds ahead of American Christian Vande Velde to win the opening prologue.
The 24-year-old Gretsch, a German time trial specialist who rides for the California- based HTC-Highroad team, completed the 5.2-mile course in 8 minutes, and 27.5 seconds. He will wear the race leader’s jersey Tuesday in the 99.3-mile Salida to Mt. Crested Butte stage 1 road race.
“I put all of my focus into the TT (time trial),” said Gretsch, who earlier this season won the prologue of the Ster ZLM Toer, a stage race in the Netherlands. “I am in really good shape now. The altitude was difficult, but I was best with it today.”
Gretsch, who last week finished third in the stage 3 individual time trial at the Tour of Utah, was the 41st rider on the course. With the exception of the final 10 riders who began with two-minute intervals, the majority of the field began in one-minute intervals.
“We trained on the course a lot,” Gretsch said of the technical prologue that provided his second career pro win. “I rode it maybe 10 times in practice, but I took the big corner a few miles slower today, but it was still a strong ride.”
The 35-year-old Vande Velde, of Lemont, Ill., a two-time Tour de France top-10 finisher who competes for Colorado-based Garmin-Cervelo, trailed Gretsch by 1.71 seconds in the field of 130 riders from 17 teams.
Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team), 27, of Albuquerque, N.M., was third, trailing the winner by 3.81 seconds. Robert Forster (UnitedHealthcare) was next, followed by German countryman Jens Voigt (Leopard Trek) in fifth.
“My goal was not to end my season today,” said Vande Velde, who placed 17th overall last month in the Tour de France in which his squad won the team time trial and the team title. “It was a scary corner and it was very fast.”
Vande Velde, who placed fourth at the Tour of California, is a leading contender for the overall title.
The course featured a few sharp corners and one steep downhill in which riders exceeded 50 mph.
“I was surprised today,” said Vande Velde, the 11th starter on the course. “It puts me in good position, but I was surprised to be on the podium. I was thinking for a better position in the Vail time trial (stage 3).”
Reigning Tour de France titlist Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia placed ninth, about eight seconds behind the winner.
The seven-day race continues through Sunday’s stage 6, a 70.9-mile road race from Golden to Denver.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)