Another stage, another leader at USA Pro Cycling Challenge

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Ownership of the overall leader’s jersey changes everyday at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Christian Vande Velde

The Stage 3 sufferfest over two 12,000-plus foot mountain passes on Wednesday concluded with Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson crossing the line first, while teammate Christian Vande Velde took the overall lead.

Oddly, Vande Velde took the overall lead from BMC’s Tejay van Garderen, even though both have recorded the exact same time in the race so far.

Van Garderen, a Tacoma, Washington-native who moved to Montana as a child, tied with Vande Velde on Tuesday, but received the yellow jersey because he finished with Vande Velde on his wheel. On Wednesday, however, the tables were turned and Vande Velde finished in 9th place, 3 spots ahead of Van Garderen.

The Gunnison to Aspen stage on Wednesday was considered the toughest of this year’s race as the cyclists must gasp in the thin air of  two passes — Independence and Cottonwood — that exceed 12,000 feet of elevation.

Danielson is used to these mountains, however, and had a 2:30 minute margin over the peloton on the second mountain pass. The peloton gained on the flattish run-in to Aspen, but Danielson was able to stay ahead with 2 seconds to spare at the finish.

At the end of the day, 25 cyclists were within 1 minute of the leaders. The defending champion, Levi Leipheimer, is in 4th place overall, 8 seconds behind; Danielson is in 6th, 10 seconds down.

Vande Velde wore leader’s jersey during part of the Tour of Utah, a week-long race that concluded about two weeks ago. Van Garderen finished 5th overall at the Tour de France this year and 1st in the young rider competition.

 Thursday’s Stage 4 rolls 97 miles from Aspen to Beaver Creek and starts with another climb over Independence Pass. There’s another pass to summit on the way to the finish, which features a half-mile long climb.

The race begins at 11:45 a.m. (Mountain Time) and is expected to end about 3:50 p.m. NBCSports covers the race from 1:30 (a half-hour pre-show) to 4 p.m. (Mountain Time).

See stages, start times and TV and video stream details.

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