No change in GC, with Belgian Ben Hermans still comfortably on top of overall standings with two days of racing to go
The final lap at stage 4 of the Tour of Utah started with one rider thinking he’d won, and ended with another rider actually claiming victory on a balmy evening in Salt Lake City.
Heartbreak belonged to Hayden McCormick (Bridgelane), who mistakenly thought he’d triumphantly reached the end of the 8-lap circuit race. Alas there was still one 6.7-mile lap to go in the 53.8-mile stage, leaving the Kiwi completely blown from his faux finish charge including post-up for the cameras.
Instead it was Marco Canola (Nippo-Vini-Fantini) taking victory in the Utah state capitol, duplicating his win from 2017 on the same challenging circuit that doled out over 550 feet of climbing per lap, pushing the day’s total ascending to 4,450 feet.
“Our director told us, okay we have to win today,” said Canola. “We have only one chance and we have to take it.”
And take it they did. The Italian, 30, launched his winning move near the top of the circuit’s final climb, reeling in a late GC charge from James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS), and then holding off pre-race favorite Travis McCabe (Worthy) in a slow motion sprint thanks to the 10% grade of the final 500 meters. Brendan Rhim (Arapahoe Hincapie) slotted an impressive third on a stage that lasted just under 2 hours and started after the workday was done, increasing fan turnout and lessening the angry car commuter factor.
“I took a big breath at 200 meters to go,” explained Canola. “I saw [Pablo Alarcon of Canel’s Specialized] go for the sprint, and I saw Travis on the left so I said I have to go on the right side. I pushed everything out and when I saw my front wheel the first one, I could understand maybe it could be my day. Until that moment I wasn’t thinking about winning, only to push hard… Three days ago I couldn’t win because I had a big crash and my motivation was at the ground. But now I’m really happy.”
Indeed, Canola’s triumph was all the more impressive given the fact that he crashed hard during stage 1, as witnessed by the scab on his nose and bandages up and down his left leg. He also rode so hard in the breakaway on stage 3 that cramps all but forced him off his bike at one point.
He’s also no stranger to victory, Canola’s race resume including a 2014 Giro d’Italia stage win and three stage wins at the 2017 Tour of Japan among others.
There was no change at the top of the overall standings, with Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy) continuing to lead Piccoli by 44 seconds, with Niklas Eg (Trek-Segafredo) third, at 1:06.
“It’s a time gap I can be really confident with,” said Hermans before the stage. “My team has shown to be really professional. I think we have this under control. We don’t have to be anxious about anything.”
The Belgian was spot-on on this day. After a slew of attempted breaks over the first four laps, the move of the day formed around the halfway point, with 16 riders coming together off the front. The move included 14 of the race’s 17 participating teams:
Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo), Alex Hoehn (Aevolo), Ulises Castillo (Elevate-KHS), Serghei Tvetcov (Worthy), Travis McCabe (Worthy), Efren Santos (Canel’s Specialized), T.J. Eisenhart (Arapahoe-Hincapie), Ty Magner (Rally-UHC), Eder Frayer (DC Bank), Alex Howes (EF Education First), Edwin Avila (Israel Cycling Academy), Kevin Vermaerke (Hagens Berman Axeon), Tony Baca (303 Project), Stephen Bassette (Wildlife Generation), Umberto Marengo (Neri-Sottolo-Sella Italia), and Jimmy Whelan (EF Education First).
Noticeably missing, Canola’s Nippo-Vini-Fantini squad and McCormick’s Bridgelane team. That helped keep the dangerous group in check, their gap never getting above 2 minutes.
“It was really hard to catch the breakaway because there were many strong riders in the front,” said Canola. “But we stayed all together and we know in our heads that we were strong enough to bring it all together in the last climb.”
Most of the day’s initial action involved McCabe (with an assist from teammate Tvetcov) gobbling up intermediate sprint points. The four-time Tour of Utah stage winner earned top points on lap 3 and 5, moving him into the top spot of what is the white jersey competition at this race.
At the start of lap 6 the break’s gap was hanging in the one-minute range, with Vermaerke, Whelan, Santos, Mosca, Avilla and Castillo all taking hard pulls off the front in order to keep the pace high and shed any freeloading passengers. But the bunch was sensing opportunity and started to pull back time, allowing Canola and McCormick to get across.
Soon after, McCormick took a solo flyer midway through the penultimate lap and cracked open a nice-sized gap. But when he threw his arms in the air approaching the start/finish line, his miscalculation became painfully apparent. On an up note, the Kiwi was voted Most Aggressive Rider for the day, so he still ended up with a little podium time.
The real final lap was marked by a handful of would-be attacks, including a blistering move by Best Young Rider Jersey holder Joao Almeida (Hagens Berman Axeon). He was quickly joined by Filippo Fiorelli (Nippo-Vini-Fantini), along with Wolfe and Tvetcov, who’d been part of the original 16-man move.
But as is so often the case, all the late-race fireworks were extinguished by a hungry bunch, who pulled back the final breakaway at the base of the circuit’s critical closing climb. Piccoli was first to charge out of what remained of the 102-rider field, making a desperate play to reclaim time on Hermans. But the attempt was in vain, as Canola, McCabe and the race’s other fast men went roaring by in search of the stage win.
“The team plan was to have people in the break, preferably not me but it worked out that way,” said McCabe. “It got established pretty quickly. Everybody was working pretty well together, and we had Serghei up there, so it looked like a promising break. But Nippo wasn’t happy with it, and brought it back so that Canolo could bridge across and I thought, sweet I think this would stick but then the next lap suddenly it was all back together… A win would have been fantastic, but Canola knows this course better than I do. It’s his second time winning it. I’m happy he took it and I’m glad I was at least able to take second after spending 2 hours in a miserable break. ”
Next up in Utah is stage 5’s 85.1-mile ride that starts and finishes at Canyons Village at Park City Mountain and includes 5,236 feet of climbing. There are sprint lines in the meadowlands of Kamas and Hoytsville and KoM lines along the mountainous terrain near the Jordanelle Reservoir and up Browns Canyon. Finally the route will twist around Kimball Junction for a possible General Classification shakeup in the final six miles. The final push is along the steep Canyons Resort Drive and High Mountain Road. Start time is 2:30 p.m. with an expected finish at 6 p.m.