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By Neal Rogers
To the cheers of a partisan crowd, BMC’s Jeff Louder won the queen stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Saturday, a grueling slog from Park City to Snowbird Ski Resort that delivered 15,000 feet of climbing and three KOM points over 98.7 miles.
At Snowbird Ski Resort at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon the Salt Lake City native finished seconds ahead of Garmin-Chipotle’s race leader Blake Caldwell, who finished second on the stage. Team Type 1’s Glen Chadwick, less than one week off a return flight from Beijing, finished third.
With the win, Louder moved into second overall, just 7 seconds behind Caldwell with only a flat 7.5-mile time trial remaining.
The Tour of Utah general classification has come down to a two-man battle between Louder, a stronger time trialist, and Caldwell, a young rider on the form of his career looking to draw power from the yellow jersey.
If last month’s Cascade Cycling Classic is any indication, the advantage goes to Louder. The BMC rider finished second on the hilly 15-mile TT, 1:15 behind Astana’s Levi Leipheimer, while Caldwell finished 28th, 2:41 down, or 1:26 behind Louder. But Saturday’s stage winner said the race was far from over.
“I don’t have the yellow jersey on, and Blake does,” Louder said. “And he’s obviously riding very well. If I don’t beat him, he deserves to win. It’s not a done deal by any means. There’s not much to do tomorrow but go all out and see what happens.”
Heading into the stage thirteen men, all strong climbers, sat within 28 seconds of Caldwell. Three climbs awaited, including the winding and scenic 8-mile climb up Alpine Loop, which peaked at mile 59, and the smaller 4-mile climb up Highland Boulevard, which peaked at mile 80. From there, the peloton descended to the bottom of Little Cottonwood Canyon, a 13-mile pitch that finished at Snowbird.
Before the race Louder said that the anxiety that comes before a difficult climbing stage like Saturday’s stage was worse than before a time trial.
“You’re not in control the whole time,” Louder said. “You know it will hurt, but you don’t know who it will be that will be hurting you. In a time trial, you’re the only one hurting yourself. On a climb like today’s, there are so many options. A day like today is more like a chess match.”
Rock Racing’s Victor Hugo Peña attacked from the gun, spreading the peloton single file. He was quickly absorbed, but the gauntlet had been laid — Rock Racing was vying for the win, hoping to set up Spaniard Oscar Sevilla.
Soon after another break slipped off containing 11 riders, and while that move was also reeled in, several riders in the move eventually settled in to what would become the day’s primary breakaway. By nine miles in six riders were clear — Heath Blackgrove (Toyota-United), Ian McKissick (BMC), Ian Macgregor (Team Type 1), Tom Peterson (Garmin-Chipotle), Mike Creed (Rock Racing) and points leader Brad White (Successful Living), who was in his third breakaway out of three road stages. Shortly after, Health Net-Maxxis rider Matt Cooke bridged across the gap to make it a seven-man move.
With a strong climber such as Peterson able to sit on, Garmin-Chipotle went to the front and set a steady tempo, letting the gap open to one minute by mile 15, and two minutes by mile 21 as the peloton passed through the beautiful scenery of northern Utah.
The gap crept up to three minutes by mile 25, and stretched out to 4:30 after the peloton was briefly held for a train crossing at mile 33, while the breakaway was not.
“There will be no neutralization,” the voice of chief referee Dot Abbot declared over race radio. “This is simply a race incident.”
Meanwhile, the uneven dynamics of the breakaway appeared to spell its doom. With Peterson sitting on and White sprinting for maximum points at the first two intermediate sprints, Creed and Macgregor appeared irritated with the lack of cohesion. Eventually the pair split with White, causing Cooke to lose contact on the rolling roads near the expansive Jordanelle Reservoir.
Once the trio was caught, the break’s pace slowed, allowing Cooke to regain contact before the base of the Alpine Loop climb, where the break held a 4:55 lead over the Garmin-led peloton.
Two miles into the Aspen-covered 8-mile climb up Alpine Loop Creed attacked, with little reaction. Eventually Blackgrove took up the chase, but Creed maintained over the climb and wouldn’t be caught by the peloton for nearly 24 miles.
Behind, Bissell’s Utah native Burke Swindlehurst attacked the peloton at the bottom of the climb, opening a 15-second gap and springing Garmin into action, with Tom Danielson and Peter Stetina at the front of the strung-out peloton setting tempo. Unhappy with the pace, BMC eventually took over chasing duties, first reeling in Swindlehurst and eventually the remnants of the breakaway.
“We had Jonathan Garcia setting tempo just to narrow it down and see who was swinging a little bit,” Louder said. “Garmin was controlling, but they had Peterson in the move, and he’s a good climber, so they weren’t chasing too hard. They weren’t freaking out if it didn’t come back. We tried to hurt them a bit on the hills, and deal with a harder tempo than maybe they wanted to.”
Creed went over the summit with a two-minute advantage over a dwindling chase group of 30 riders, while BMC’s Darren Lill and Bookwalter, both riders within 28 seconds of Caldwell’s lead, went clear from the chase group over the top. The move drew out Team Type 1’s Valeiry Kobzarenko and Chadwick, McKissick and Danielson. The aggression caused Caldwell to briefly leave the shelter of his teammates to chase, alongside Health Net’s Phil Zajicek and Cooke.
“That was the only time all day that I had to close some gaps,” Caldwell said. “Luckily it was a descent.”
Louder, however, stayed with the main field.
“I just dropped back to see what was happening, to see how everyone was looking,” Louder said. “I know that descent, and I knew it would regroup at the bottom. I wanted to see what the composition of the front group was.”
Louder was right, but what he couldn’t have expected was the number of parked cars on the narrow road and the general mayhem that took place on the fast, technical descent which saw the leaders angrily pass the lead commissaire official.
By mile 70 Creed’s gap held at 40 seconds, but three miles later, heading into the second climb up, he sat up and waited for field.
Up Little Cottonwood
Sevilla was first to attack as the peloton reached the early slopes of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Danielson immediately reacted, with Caldwell on his wheel. But with BMC’s Lill and Louder chasing, the Garmin pair was eventually brought back, while Sevilla’s lead stretched to 15 seconds as the pack shed riders out the back. Top climbers missing from the select group included Lill, Justin England (Toyota-United), Peter Stetina (Garmin-Chipotle) and Cesar Grajales (Rock Racing).
Chadwick was the first to bridge up to Sevilla, and the Kiwi immediately went straight through the Rock rider, who appeared to lose the plot shortly after.
“It seemed like a good idea,” Chadwick said. “It seemed like Sevilla slowed down, and Danielson slowed down. Nothing to lose, nothing to gain, really. It thinned the field out pretty quick and gave me a head start on the other guys.”
Within 500 meters Chadwick held a 15-second lead over just four remaining riders — Swindlehurst, Baldwin, Louder and Caldwell.
As Chadwick’s advantage reached 20 seconds, Caldwell — the stage winner at Snowbird in 2006, the last time the race was contested — quickly jumped across, leaving Baldwin, Swindlehurst and Louder behind. Once he’d reached Chadwick, the race leader accelerated past.
“The other guys were taking turns making accelerations, and I was feeling comfortable and within myself,” Caldwell said. “I knew I wanted to put more time into anyone I could. I wanted to go across to Chadwick by myself, and I went across and still felt good and just kept going.”
Further down the road Baldwin and Swindlehurst took turns attacking, with Louder struggling to maintain contact.
“I must have gotten dropped eight, nine times out there today,” Louder said. “I was getting pretty hard from all sides there. Chris Baldwin and Burke Swindlehurst were attacking particularly hard at the bottom of the climb. I didn’t have the acceleration to go with them. When Caldwell bounced straight across to Chadwick, I thought, well, okay, that guy deserves to win, he’s riding so well. But I just found my own tempo and kept turning it up.”
A surge by Swindlehurst gapped off Baldwin, and shortly after Louder surged across to Chadwick. The BMC rider first dropped Swindlehurst, and then Chadwick. Although Caldwell held a steady tempo, Louder slowly reeled him, latching on with 1km remaining. With 500 to go the pair was together, however once Louder dialed up his sprint, Caldwell could only try to limit his losses.
“I’ve ridden this enough times this year to know where the landmarks are and where I can get the best out of myself,” Louder said. “Once I got to the final crux, before it flattens out from eight percent to six percent, I knew that if I could get a gap I could get it rolling. Once I had a nice gap I set my sights on Caldwell. Once I caught him I went for the line all the way. I knew I could go 500 meters all out.”
After Louder crossed the line to the cheers of the crowd, he waited to see the yellow jersey cross the line.
“I held a good steady pace the whole way, but Louder came across and had a little more gas in the last kilometer,” Caldwell said. “I was feeling alright with 500 meters to go, but he put in a strong dig there and opened up a gap.”
Asked if he thought the yellow jersey might provide its mythical boost for Sunday’s decisive time trial, Caldwell said, “I feel it already. I’m looking forward to it. I know I have some good time trials in me, and the added motivation of paying back my teammates for all the hard work they did for me today.”
Garmin-Chipotle has led this Tour of Utah from stage 1. Whether the team will hold the lead through Sunday, or Louder will take the jersey in the final miles of the race, remain to be seen. Stay tuned.