ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – Tom Danielson won the third stage of the USA Pro Challenge on Wednesday, and Garmin-Sharp teammate Christian Vande Velde took the overall lead in the longest leg of the event.

Danielson, from Boulder, Colo., claimed his first stage win since 2009, completing the 130.6-mile road race from Gunnison in 5 hours, 2 minutes, 6 seconds. The stage featured two climbs with elevations over 12,000 feet.

“With two kilometers left, I didn’t think I was going to win,” said Danielson, who finished eighth in his debut in the Tour de France in 2011 but crashed out of the event this year. “But my wife says, `Never look back. Never look back.’ It works. To all of you aspiring cyclists out there, never look back.”

Vande Velde, from Lemont, Ill., finished ninth in the stage and moved into the lead based on a third-level tiebreaker, the lowest placing of the tied riders in the third stage. Vande Velde and Tejay van Garderen, the BMC rider from Tacoma, Wash., are tied in overall time and points awarded to riders in each stage.

“Nothing really has changed,” said the 36-year-old Vande Velde, a 15-year pro who has finished as high as fourth in the Tour de France. “We have the same time, He’s virtually in the race lead, too. But how will approach the day tomorrow? I don’t know. We’ll have to talk about that.”

Van Garderen was 12th in the third stage.

Danielson pedaled past a lead pack of nearly 20 riders and held about a 2-minute margin while he crested Independence Pass alone about 20 miles from the finish.

“I’ve dreamed about that,” said Danielson, who has several residences in Colorado and often trains in the Rocky Mountains. “Going over the climb by myself, that was my finish line. I just had 20 miles to go and I thought I just had to take it as it comes.”

In the waning miles, the field quickly narrowed the deficit, but Danielson stayed in front moved into sixth overall, trailing by 10 seconds.

Defending race titlist Levi Leipheimer, the Omega Pharma Quick-Step rider from Santa Rosa, Calif., finished 17th in the main field and remained fourth overall, trailing by eight seconds.

Italy’s Damiano Caruso of Liquigas-Cannondale was second in the stage and Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang of RadioShack-Nissan finished third, both 2 seconds behind Danielson.

The seven-day race continues Thursday with a 97.2-mile stage from Aspen to Beaver Creek. The road race features a category 1 climb, a return to Independence Pass for the second straight day — but in the opposite direction.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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