EF Education First's Lawson Craddock moves into leader’s jersey ahead of Wednesday’s Queen Stage
What on paper — and for most of the day — looked like a fairly straight-forward sprint stage got turned upside down in the waning moments, as Umberto Marengo (Neri-Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM) blasted out of a late breakaway to take a narrow win on stage 1 of the Tour of Utah on Tuesday.
Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) finished just behind the Italian stage winner, gaining enough time (and a time bonus) to move into first overall. The American now has a 6-second lead over João Almeida (Hagens Berman Axeon), who was also in the late breakaway and finished fifth. Monday’s prologue winner James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS), who was happy just to finish in the main bunch after suffering an untimely flat with 7.5 miles to go and having to chase hard to regain contact before the finish in North Logan City, was later penalized 20 seconds for drafting his team car.
Third place on the stage went to Edwin Avila (Israel Cycling Academy).
“The team worked perfectly,” said Marengo, 27, whose previous best result this year was a 4th place finish at stage 9 of the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China. His only other professional victory came in 2017 at the Challenge du Prince. “We had a rider in the [day’s main] breakaway so no one had to work until the final laps.”
The day’s action of consequence kicked off with about 12 miles left in the 86.9-mile adventure when Travis Samuel (DC Bank), the final member of the standard little-to-no-hope breakaway, was reeled in by a bunch motivated by the prospect of a bunch sprint. But instead of the sprinter teams coming forward to control the race, chaos ensued, with numerous riders taking flyers off the front during the final two laps of the stage’s 7.2-mile finishing circuit that included a shallow cat. 4 climb just to keep things interesting.
Piccoli suffered his puncture just before the start of the final lap, but stayed calm during a rapid bike change and chase that was assisted by teammate Eric Young. The former race leader was dangling at the back at the start of the final climb, but had safely reintegrated by the time the bunch went over the top, impressing his boss back in the team car.
“We’re still in a really good spot. I think you saw teamwork and commitment really personified there at the end,” said Elevate-KHS sport director Paul Abrahams. “Tomorrow is the day we have really been working for. We’re excited about [stage 2 which finishes with the hors categorie Powder Mountain climb]. We think we’re in a good spot. It’s not bad to have EF take control of the race. And other than having the jersey we’re in the exact same spot we were in yesterday. It’s not the good days that show your character as a team, it’s the moments when you have a little bit of misfortunate and I think the team handled it really well.”
Back at the front, EF’s Craddock launched off the front with about 2.5 miles to go, and after initially flying solo, he was joined by Marengo, Almeida, Avila, eventual fourth place finisher Griffin Easter (303 Project), and Sebastian Schonberger (Neri-Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM). Behind, the field seemed to let up, caught off guard by the fact that two riders near the top of the GC standings had managed to slip away. That was all the rope the very-motivated break needed, as they hammered their way toward the finish.
As the line approached, Schonberger was first to go, drawing out Craddock in the process. While the American burned matches shutting down the Austrian’s jump, Marengo bided his time, finally launching with about 100 meters to go and winning with room to spare.
Despite coming up short at the finish, Craddock was all smiles after the race, clearly enjoying his yellow jersey moment.
“[My teammate] Alex [Howes] made a really good call,” explained Craddock of the stage’s end game. “He noticed there was a small riser about 4km to go in the middle of the descent that would be a good place to launch an attack. It just went from there. I was able to gain some speed and gain a gap. From there, there was six of us [off the front] and the race kind of played out from there.”
The stage 1 trek, which started and finished in North Logan City, was the longest of this year’s Utah tour. The course traversed the western slopes of the Bear River Mountains, while doling out 4,310 feet of total elevation gain that was spread over seven cat. 4 climbs.
The peloton started the day’s work with two trips around Little Mountain, passing less than 10 miles south of the Idaho state line. Each of those circuits included the first two King of the Mountain points opportunities, which were split evenly between Ignacio Prado (Canel’s Specialized) and Sam Boardman (Wildlife Generation). That pair were part of the day’s other prominent breakaway that slipped away about 6 miles into the stage and also included Camden Vodicka (Wildlife Generation), Francesco Bongiorno (Neri-Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM), and Samuel.
Prado, the reigning Mexican national road race champion, also grabbed top sprint points in Newton, which the course passed through twice before heading back to the start/finish for five finishing laps. Rolling in a clockwise direction, each 7.2-mile circuit included a manageable cat. 4 ascent. But only the first of those climbs counted in the KoM competition, which went to Boardman.
With that jersey sewn up for the day, the Wildlife Generation rider drifted back to the Elevate-KHS-led bunch, which had never ceded more than 3 minutes during an otherwise fairly straightforward day attempting to protect Piccoli’s yellow leader’s jersey ahead of the bigger climbing stages to come.
The breakaway all but fell apart soon after reaching the finishing circuits. Bongiorno suffered a puncture and had a painfully slow wheel change. Then Prado and Vodicka dropped off the pace, leaving Samuel alone at the front with 25 miles left to race.
But the Canadian gamely stayed away, holding onto a 1-minute advantage with three laps to go. It was all very calculated, though, with the sprinter’s teams content to let him suffer a little longer before reeling him in for good with 12 miles left to race.
From there, the action heated up, with numerous non-sprinters trying to launch attacks in hopes derailing the day’s expected fast-man finish. And that’s exactly what happened, with Marengo capturing top honors and Craddock taking over the race lead.
“Obviously the race is going to be really animated tomorrow, but today was more of a stage for Alex and I,” Craddock explained. “Alex came up to me once the circuit started and said, ‘I’m not feeling fantastic so if you have legs try something.’ He sacrificed his chances for me on the last lap and we just kind of raced our bikes. That’s really what we’re all here to do. So many times we go to Europe and you’re racing against world champions and all of that, against the absolute world’s best. Although there is a very strong field here, it’s nice to come back to America and do the animating for once. For us, that was a point that we had coming into this race, where we wanted to really just race our bikes and find the enjoyment back in that, just because it’s so tough in Europe for a lot of the year. Today was a big step for that and we’re looking forward to the rest of the race.”
That anticipation doesn’t necessarily include keeping the leader’s jersey,but he has a few friends he’d like to pass it on to.
“Sure I’d love to keep the jersey,” Craddock said. “But tomorrow is an extremely hard climb. Powder Mountain is probably one of the hardest climbs you can find in this area and possibly even in the state. As my style of rider, I think it could be a bit too difficult. And at the end of the day, we came here with Lachlan Morton and Joe Dombrowski as our leaders and me being in the jersey today doesn’t change that tomorrow.”
Indeed, next up at the Tour of Utah is arguably the race’s hardest stage, an 84.4-mile leg tester from Brigham City to the 8,900-foot summit of Powder Mountain. The trek up the hors categorie climb is 8.6 miles with max gradient of 15 percent. That comes after the field will have already climbed the cat. 2 North Ogden Drive ascent. All told there’s 7,310 feet of elevation gain for the day. With only two WorldTour teams racing in Utah, expect a wide open day of racing.