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PARK CITY, Utah (VN) — Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing Team) won the 2012 Tour of Utah on Sunday as Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) soloed to victory in the final stage.
Leipheimer used the steeps of Empire Pass as a springboard to leap past a disintegrating break and into the lead, then held onto most of his advantage on the fast downhill run into the finish at Park City.
The two-time Utah winner rode the climb last year after the tour ended, and then suggested the race include the climb this year. There was a certain pressure to win today.
“I definitely felt the pressure today, having been the one who pushed for that climb,” Leipheimer said. “They actually put it in. I didn’t think they would.”
He also said that the fact that his team could make a mistake and find itself out of reach on the GC was a nod to the quality of the field in Utah these days.
“I think it’s a testament to how the Tour of Utah has grown,” he said. “If you make a mistake or two, like we did in the team time trial, then your race is over.
“I felt very good all week. I think better and better.”
As for Tschopp, he played the odds in the finale, with a late assist from teammate Mathias Frank.
“I knew Levi had two minutes, and my strategy was to perform to my maximum,” he said. “I did what I needed to. From time to time, it was risky, but I did what I needed to do.”
A big break formed early in the 76.7-mile stage around Park City, which featured the climbs of Wolf Creek and Empire Pass and more than 6,800 feet of up before the fast downhill run to the Kimball Arts Center on lower Main Street.
The escapees included Jorge Castiblanco Cubides and Rafael Infantino Abreu (EPM-UNE); Jesse Anthony and Mike Creed (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies); Carter Jones and mountains leader Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling); Tim Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale); Gavin Mannion (Bontrager-Livestrong); Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare); and Thomas Rabou (Competitive Cyclist).
In pursuit was a three-man chase at 45 seconds — Cameron Wurf (Champion System), Ryan Roth (Spidertech-C10) and Michael Matthews (Rabobank) — followed by the peloton, in the care of BMC Racing Team for overall leader Tschopp, at 3:25.
Jones pushed the pace as the break headed for the Cat. 2 Wolf Creek KOM, putting Anthony into some difficulty. Then Castiblanco lit it up, riding away from the others to that maximum points on the climb. Matthews joined him past the summit, but the two didn’t stay clear for long, and with 35 miles to race the break had reformed.
Behind, the peloton sprang to life, shedding rider after rider en route to the feedzone, trimming its deficit to 2:30 as the bunch strung itself out in one long line.
BMC drove the chase relentlessly, closing to within 90 seconds of the break with 23 miles to go. Brent Bookwalter was on the front for Tschopp as the race hit the steeps of Empire Pass.
Duggan rode away from the break on the lower slopes of Empire Pass, pursued by Sutherland, Creed and Castiblanco, as the shrinking peloton began reeling in the fragments of the break.
Astonishingly, Sutherland dragged himself up to and past Duggan. Race leader Tschopp still had Bookwalter with him, along with Peter Stetina and Tom Danielson (Garmin) and two-time Utah winner Leipheimer — who attacked and took off after the leaders.
Leipheimer shot past Castiblanco, Duggan and Sutherland. But the dwindling yellow-jersey group containing Tschopp, Danielson, stage-5 winner Leopold Koenig (NetApp), Ian Boswell (Bontrager-Livestrong) and Lucas Euser (Spidertech-C10) was perhaps 30 seconds behind with 5km to the KOM. Chris Horner was pacing RadioShack-Nissan teammate Matthew Busche back to that group.
As Leipheimer’s gap reached 50 seconds Tschopp seemed to be struggling with the pace. The American took a gap of more than a minute over the top and began bombing the descent. He was 2:07 down on Tschopp and had only 10km to erase that deficit.
“Levi made it hard for us,” said BMC assistant director Mike Sayers. “I think Tschopp and Mathias were in control most of the time. The gap never really got over a minute, and that was closer than we wanted it. But at the end of the day we had two guys, and that was good.”
The chase group was down to nine riders, and second-placed Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) was not one of them. Tschopp had Frank supporting him.
Koenig, Tschopp and Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong) were on the point with five miles to go, and the chase seemed more interested in playing defense than reeling in Leipheimer, who was using every inch of the road on the way down to Park City.
Leipheimer hit the red kite with a minute in hand — he wouldn’t take the overall, but the stage was his. He raised his arms, then pounded his chest as he sailed across the line. Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) crossed second with Koenig third.
The Tschopp group followed 49 seconds later, confirming the Swiss rider’s hold on the yellow jersey. Busche slotted into second overall at 43 seconds down with Koenig third at 49 seconds.