So far at the Tour Colombia 2.1, the sprinters have had their way. Especially Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates), who won both stages 2 and 3 in bunch sprints following the opening team time trial win by EF Pro Cycling.
That should all change Friday as the first summit finish of the race is on tap. The peloton will start for the third consecutive day in Paipa and then travel 169km to the finish on the category 3 climb to Santa Rosa de Viterbo at 2,760 metres of elevation.
EF Pro Cycling’s Tejay van Garderen, whose teammate Jonathan Caicedo is currently leading the race, told Cyclingnews that he expects the general classification to be in play during the stage.
Van Garderen is at the race to support Caicedo as well as Colombian teammates Daniel Martinez, Sergio Higuita and Rigoberto Uran, while also shaking the cobwebs loose from his legs ahead of a full-fledged European campaign and a potential ninth start at the Tour de France.
“It’s definitely a nice way to ease into the season,” van Garderen said of starting in the warm South American climate rather than in cold and wet Europe.
That “ease” of his season start is complicated slightly by the elevation at the race, where not a single stage dips below 2,500 metres, and the final stage finishes on Alto del Verjón at 3,290 metres. Van Garderen said he’s already been feeling the effects of the thin air.
“Sometimes it feels like my lungs are more in my throat than in my chest, but we’re getting through it,” the 31-year-old said. “It’s a good thing we have Colombians here who are quite adapted to the altitude, and I’m sure they’ll be flying high up the climb on the final day.”
Van Garderen is not a stranger to altitude, but the Colombian race goes to extreme heights that can wear a rider down throughout the week. Van Garderen is hoping his western American roots help him adjust and perform.
“I have spent a lot of time in Colorado, so I should be a little bit used to the altitude,” he said. “Hopefully that helps me a little bit, but I’m definitely feeling the altitude.”
Van Garderen is currently fourth overall thanks to his team’s performance in the stage 1 team time trial, tied on time with Caicedo, Martinez and Higuita. Molano is fifth thanks to time bonuses from his stage wins.
EF Pro Cycling’s general classification rivals from Team Ineos, Richard Carapaz and Egan Bernal, are eighth and ninth, respectively, at 46 seconds back. Pro Continental team Rally Cycling has climbers Gavin Mannion and Kyle Murphy at 59 seconds, while UAE Team Emirates’ Colombian climber Sergio Henao is currently 17th overall at one minute.
Friday could be the GC men’s first chance to show their form ahead of Saturday’s stage 5, which includes some familiar climbs but has a long, flat run to the finish. The big day for the GC battle will certainly come Sunday on Alto del Verjón.