SALT LAKE CITY (VN) — Of all the teams at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, it’s Continental squad UnitedHealthcare that’s ridden one of the best races.
After he won stage 1 into Ogden with a muscular sprint, team leader Rory Sutherland, a staple in the general classification ranks at American stage races, said his team decided to back off the overall and focus on stage wins. It’s paid off bigger than anyone could have imagined.
“It is better than we predicted, honestly. We’ve been chasing the stage wins at the big races, like the Californias, Utahs and Colorados, since 2007,” said director Mike Tamayo. “We haven’t had a win at one of the big ones. Coming in here, taking the first stage and the yellow jersey, was a big highlight for us. It gave the boys confidence.”
Jake Keough won on Friday in a well-timed sprint over Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), bringing United’s haul in Utah to two stages — two more than the team has been able to snare at major American stage races against the UCI’s WorldTour teams.
The UHC boys are riding a fantastic Tour of Utah against some of the world’s best teams. They now have two stage wins and rode a commendable team time trial on Wednesday, coming in fifth.
As important as the final result sheet is, it’s the effort that leads to the podium by the team that’s indicative of a group working well together. On Friday into Salt Lake City, it was clear that the eight from UnitedHealthcare are riding as well as the top teams at the race.
“That was a hard day to pull back the break,” Sutherland said. “The guys rode pretty unbelievable. They’re not used to doing stage races like this where they pull all day long. But everyone did their job. Everyone pulled.”
Tamayo agreed. “We rode all day today. We rode 180k of this race to run that [break] down,” Tamayo said. “We had help. … But you’ve got to have the sprinter to execute. It worked out perfectly for us.”
Consistency has been what United has thrived upon. Both sprint wins were well-executed focal points of races well ridden all the way through, wire to wire.
“That’s really been the word of the week, is execution,” said Jeff Louder, a former Utah overall winner himself. “As a team we’ve been collectively talking about that a lot. … And then having a clear goal and trying to accomplish that.
“It’s something that kind of seems elementary in cycling, but sometimes it’s hard to put together, and so it’s been the catchword of the week, is execution.”
It may be hard for riders like Louder and Sutherland — both capable of riding solid GCs — to abandon the longer-term ambitions, but it’s a sacrifice that’s played out to perfection.
“When I had bad luck on the first day and got dropped it was pretty easy to get behind,” Louder said of the team strategy. “But as professional athletes, even though we do have big egos and goals of our own, at the end of the day … it’s our goal to win for the sponsor.
“When you win, you can’t say you didn’t do it right.”