Canadian Veilleux Battles Through Rain, Climbs to Win Stage 4

June 27, 2008 4:16:08 PM PDT
With just 60 miles in front of them at the start of Stage 4 this morning in Bedford, the 91 riders at the start line steeled themselves for what they expected would be the most demanding leg of the American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High 5. They weren't disappointed. Torrential bouts of rain and nearly 7,000 feet of climbing through the Allegheny Mountains tested their legs and their endurance and, in the end, revealed the new overall race leader - South Africa's Christoff Van Heerden (Konica Minolta).

After sitting consistently in third place in the general classification, Van Heerden jumped into the American Eagle Outfitters lead yellow jersey after struggling over the day's two decisive climbs to stick with the lead group of 12 riders. He took over the leading role after gaining more than two minutes over his GC competitors from Belgium, Steven Van Vooren (Johan Bruyneel Cycling Academy), and Canada, Keven LaCombe (Kelley Benefit Strategies-Medifast), who were not represented up front.

Van Heerden's current overall lead is just one second ahead of today's stage winner, Canadian David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast), who is second in the overall standings, and Brazilian Stefano Barberi (Z Team) who holds third place overall.

"All I really had to do was sit on at the back of the bunch and keep my eye on Veilleux in the end," said Van Heerden who also leads the Best Sprinter competition. "Luckily, I was able to stay up front with the climbers today, and that is what really helped me. The rain also might have slowed the peloton down behind us because it was really tricky and winding - giving us a bigger advantage."

The sun finally broke through at the finish line in Latrobe just in time for the crowds to watch the exciting but tricky sprint finale on Main Street. Veilleux proved to be the fastest sprinter, taking a convincing victory of several bike lengths ahead of the South African race leader and Dutchman Dennis Luyt (Global Cycling).

"I think there is less than a second between us, and so I think tomorrow is going to decide everything," said the French-Canadian stage winner. "It was really hard today, constantly up and down even between the two KOMs. The goal today was to stay with the main group. My team has been riding great this week, and I am looking forward to the next couple of stages."

Black clouds loomed over the talented international U-25 peloton as they rolled out for their first 15 miles before turning upward for a difficult climb to Bald Knob Summit, the first KOM for the day. Bald Knob Summit was an almost six-mile climb with grades of 10% to15 % that decided the day's top climbers.

After the previous stage's memorable 40-mile solo effort, Best Climber leader from Boulder, Colo., Peter Stetina (VMG-Felt) continued to pick up points, capturing the red and white polka-dotted jersey for the second consecutive stage. The 21-year-old stretched his legs over the first ascent to single-handedly form a lead group of 12 riders in tow.

Deep into the climbs through the Allegheny Mountains, the peloton continued to follow the road that General John Forbes and the young George Washington paved 250 years earlier on the historic Forbes Trail Expedition - a turning point in American history that changed the course of the French and Indian War with the capture of the French at Fort Duquesne.

After a slight rolling descent, the lead group of 12 riders continued the arduous drudge up hill, in the pouring rain, to crest atop Laurel Hill Summit, where Stetina won the second and final KOM. This 1.8 mile climb was shorter but with a very intense mountain pass that presented grades of 15%.

Gaining more than two minutes on their nearest competitors, the lead group of 12 became highly animated with just over three miles to go. American Alex Welch (Team VRC) earned himself the Forbes Trail Most Aggressive Rider jersey when he gained a several second advantage on his breakaway companions with 2.5 miles to go.

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