Champion System Pro Cycling Team’s Craig Lewis was part of a nine-man breakaway that saw its hopes for success survive until the final kilometers of Tuesday’s second stage of the USA Pro Challenge.
Champion System's Pengda Jiao was part of the first break on the 159.3-kilometer stage that ran from Montrose to Mt. Crested Butte. Immediately after that break was caught, new attacks launched and Lewis was quick to respond. The Boulder, Colo., resident made an elite nine-man breakaway that featured ProTour riders Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) and Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan).
After building a lead that stretched out to seven minutes at one point – and was still more than a minute with 10 km to go, Lewis and his fellow escapees were caught two kilometers from the uphill finish. Lewis finished 38th as Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) took the win and secured the overall race lead.
"It was brutal at the finish," Champion System Assistant Director Chris Wherry said. "I'm super psyched for Craig. The boys did a great job of staying together at the front coming into the last climb."
At last year’s Giro d’Italia, Lewis fractured his right femur and broke ribs in a potentially career-ending, high-speed crash. In December, he underwent a complex bone graft to aid his recovery. When he signed with Champion System, General Manager Ed Beamon said he considered taking Lewis a gamble.
But the winner of the second stage of the Tour de Beauce in June said Tuesday's performance was a huge step forward in his comeback.
"Last year I thought I'd never get back to this level," Lewis said. "I'm getting stronger day by day."
Wednesday’s 210.1 km stage uns from Gunnison to Aspen and features two big climbs: Cottonwood Pass at 3,696 meters and Independence Pass at 3,686 meters.
"Those passes put the fear into everyone; it makes guys more conservative," Wherry said. "Tomorrow I think we're just going to have to play it conservatively and stay with the group."