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Johann Tschopp wins queen stage, takes lead in 2012 Tour of Utah

BMC rider's late attack brings him the victory and the jersey in stage 5 at Snowbird

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SNOWBIRD SKI AND SUMMER RESORT, Utah (VN) — Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing Team) launched a late attack to win stage 5 and take the leader’s jersey in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah on Saturday.

Tschopp attacked from a chase that had begun chewing up the remnants of the break du jour and then held off a late pursuit from Ian Boswell and Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Leopold Koenig (NetApp).

A quick one-two of attacks did for Leipheimer in the final kilometer, and Koenig followed for second with Dombrowski third.

The countback took a while, but when the times were tallied, Tschopp had taken the yellow jersey from Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp), who cracked on the final climb and slipped into second overall at 38 seconds back.

Tschopp, who said the Wasatch range reminded him of the mountains back home in Switzerland, said the victory “means a lot for me and for the team.”

“It’s the first time I’ve ever worn a yellow jersey at a stage race,” he added. “For me, it’s very important. It’s a grand joy. … It means a lot to wear the yellow jersey— hopefully it will last until tomorrow.”

The 101.1-mile stage from Newpark Town Center to Snowbird served up searing heat, four KOMs and the beyond-category climb to the resort as the cherry on top.

UnitedHealthcare, fresh from two stage wins at in Utah, got off to a rough start on Saturday. Phil Deignan did not take the start, and Hilton Clarke abandoned early in the day.

The early going was marked by a series of attacks, but nothing started until after the first KOM, snatched up by Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) ahead of Javier Eduardo Gomez (EPM-UNE), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas) and Thomas Rabou.

“At Bissell, we’re pretty opportunistic,” said Jacques-Maynes. “We try to ride the breakaway, go for stage wins, wear the jerseys.”

Then, some 20 miles in, a three-man break — Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare), Chris Barton (Bissell) and Agnoli — set off, quickly taking 25 seconds ahead of a 20-man chase group pursued in turn by the peloton, led by Garmin-Sharp on behalf of race leader Vande Velde.

Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Ben King (RadioShack-Nissan) bridged to the lead trio as the peloton reabsorbed the first chase group, and with 65 miles to go they had 45 seconds with Garmin-Sharp in charge back in the bunch.

The gap stretched out as everyone settled into his proper role — to two minutes, then three, and eventually topping four and a half minutes at the 50-mile mark.

As the break hit the foot of the Cat. 1 climb of Alpine Loop the quintet had 4:45 on the bunch.

Then Competitive Cyclist’s Francisco Mancebo attacked. More than a minute down in 20th overall, the Spaniard had a long way to go to catch the bunch up front.

Barton fell back from the break as Mancebo charged forward. The Competitive Cyclist rider quickly caught and passed Barton and set out after the remaining quartet. The peloton was taking back time, too, nibbling the gap down to just under three and a half minutes.

Tim Duggan (Liquigas) was next to attack out of the field, followed by Caleb Fairly (CpiderTech-C10) and Jacques-Maynes.

Ahead, Agnoli led Anthony, Louder and King over the KOM. Anthony fell off the pace on the descent, and Mancebo latched onto him. The two then fought up to the lead trio and the break was a quintet once again.

The escapees took a lead of 2:45 over the field going into the valley, making Mancebo the race leader on the road. Behind, a chase of five formed, comprising Duggan, Fairly, Jacques-Maynes, Tom Slagter (Rabobank) and Michael Schar (BMC). That first chase was hovering about a minute behind the leaders with 25 miles to ride.

Heading for the Cat. 2 Sun Crest KOM the two front groups merged, while behind Freddy Piamonte Rodriguez (EPM-UNE) briefly jumped out of the peloton for a tour of no-man’s land. Garmin was on the front of the bunch.

King of the Mountains Duggan and Jacques-Maynes duked it out, briefly, for the Sun Crest KOM, a battle that Jacques-Maynes won easily. The two led over the top and down the other side at more than 60 mph toward the final grind to Snowbird.

Going into a right-hand turn at the bottom of the descent Fairly hit the deck hard and that wrote finis to his stint in the break; he remounted and continued, but Fairly’s heart was clearly no longer in the race and he drifted back to the field.

With 15 miles remaining the break had two minutes on the peloton.

Agnoli and Duggan — 32nd at 1:32 — were doing the work while the others sat on. And then Anthony had a dig with 12 miles to go, opening a respectable gap. Agnoli led the chase to bring him back, but it proved slow going because Anthony was not giving up.

Behind, Vande Velde still had three teammates for support, and they were closing in on the first chase group. First to be swept up was Agnoli, who finally ran out of gas.

Mancebo tried to launch a solo pursuit of Anthony, but the others pegged him back.

With 10km to race Anthony popped and shot backward through the break to the field. Shortly thereafter, Slagter and Duggan put the wood to their remaining companions, shelling King, Mancebo, Schar, Jacques-Maynes and Louder, leaving them to be pulled in by the peloton.

Slagter slowly pulled away from Duggan until Tschopp attacked from the closing peloton and rolled past both of them. Sitting 14th overall at a minute down on Vande Velde he was a serious threat — and then the race leader cracked with just under three miles to race.

Tschopp’s move brought out a number of other contenders — Boswell (26th at 1:11) was next to attack, drawing out Leipheimer (39th at 2:07), Dombrowski, (27th at 1:11), and Koenig (24th at 1:10).

But they left it too late, and Tschopp was clinging to a lead of perhaps a minute as he hit the red kite marking 1km to race. He would not be brought back, and had plenty of time to sit up and celebrate as he crossed the line.

With a lead of just 38 seconds going into the final, mountainous stage, can the Swiss hold on to his yellow jersey?

“Tomorrow, it’s a big stage,” he said. “I hope that I will have the same legs and the same good feeling I had today.”

So, too, will the riders from Bontrager-Livestrong.

“Looking back on it … it’s a surprise for sure,” said Dombrowski. “For me and my teammate Ian Boswell to be up there, it says a lot. It’s really exciting for us to get invites to these big professional races. Regardless of the stage, whether it was flat or a mountaintop finish, we could be up there at the end.”

• Race results