Rory Sutherland won the opening stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Tuesday in Ogden and took the overall lead. Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) beat out Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) in a reduced bunch sprint after the peloton fell apart on the climb of North Ogden Pass inside the final 20 miles.
After a run of second-place finishes at the Amgen Tour of California, it was Sutherland’s first win at the top level of North American racing.
“It’s been six years of trying to do it and it finally worked,” said Sutherland. “The first day of the tour, we managed get the yellow jersey and a stage win. Everything else from here on is a bonus, so we can try and enjoy this great tour more than we normally would.”
Caleb Fairly (Spidertech-C10), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Eduard Beltran Suarez (EPM-UNE), William Clarke (Champion System) and David Williams (Competitive Cyclist) escaped early and built a maximum advantage north of eight minutes midway through the 131.7-mile opening stage.
Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) jumped out of the peloton with 35 miles remaining and quickly began pulling time back on the escapees on the Trapper’s Loop climb. Up ahead, the break splintered, with Fairly, Jacques-Maynes and Beltran climbing toward the day’s penultimate summit beneath Snowbasin Ski Area. Jacques-Maynes took his third KOM of the day, securing the climber’s jersey for Bissell, and Williams soon regained contact on the descent toward the base of North Ogden Pass.
Anthony rode onto the wheel of a fading Clarke and the pair fought their way back into the breakaway on the flat roads leading into the final climb. The break was six with 16 miles remaining. The peloton was only 1:40 behind and Anthony went to the front of the breakaway, dumping Clarke and Williams low down on the climb to the pass overlooking Ogden.
“After having chased back twice, it looked as if his day was over,” Champion System assistant director Burke Swindlehurst said. “But Clarke did forge on and finished the stage within the time limit.”
The disintegrating bunch drew the breakaway in over the steep climb and a group of attackers led by Lucas Euser (Spidertech-C10) blasted through the escapees near the summit. U.S. road champion Timmy Duggan (Liquigas), Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp), Mathias Flueckiger (BMC) and Ian Boswell (Bontrager-Livestrong) each made the group and it ballooned to about 15 riders as the pitch leveled on the outskirts of Ogden.
“It seemed like the two big teams decided to play chicken of who wants to do the work today for a little while,” said Sutherland. “Finally, RadioShack and Garmin seemed to do a bulk of the work to bring it back.
“I wanted to keep it close enough so we could try to win the stage.”
Euser pressed on alone at the front as the peloton regrouped and Chris Baldwin led a grope of five chasers onto his wheel at 7.3 miles to go. Duggan was there, as were Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank), Ben Day (UnitedHealthcare) and Johann Tschopp (BMC). The six leaders organized and pinned the accelerator, but Garmin put on the hard chase from behind.
“You have a hard climb like that so close to the finish, and everyone’s just focused on ‘make it over the climb, make it over the climb.’ And the guys that make it over are there, and everything shuffles and there’s a lot of looking around — no team really took control,” said Bookwalter. “We tried our hand in attacks to get something to go and stick to the line, but there was enough guys there and enough guys with power to bring everything back.”
With 5.7 miles to go, the peloton reset with about 30 riders all together. Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) was the first to counter and David Zabriskie (Garmin) was the first to make a late move stick — if only for a handful of minutes. Zabriskie pushed out to a quick 15-second lead and buried his nose on his stem, looking for the leader’s jersey he last wore in 2009.
BMC nailed the American back inside three miles to go and countered, but it was a Rabobank rider that jumped away. Michael Creed jumped onto the wheel and the duo led by five seconds inside a mile to go. Again, the escape didn’t go anywhere.
“I marked a couple moves, then I tried on solo, which was very short lived,” said Bookwalter. “It didn’t feel too good. But anything can happen in these stages. And with a field like this, there’s a few really strong teams, really deep teams, but that trickles down pretty fast. It was pretty clear as soon as we went above the (final KOM) line no team was going to line it up to take control.”
Bontrager led out into downtown Ogden, but Sutherland opened the sprint long and nailed the major U.S. stage win he’d hunted for years. And with it, the Boulder, Colorado-based Aussie assumed the overall lead.
“It’s one of the longest days in the tour,” said Sutherland. “And to do that, at altitude, in such hot temperatures, is a pretty hard way to start the tour.”
Editor’s note: This report initially referred to the late-attacking Rabobank rider as Robert Gesink. The Dutchman is not in Utah. We regret the error.