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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (VN) – Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) won the fourth stage at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah on Friday. It was his second stage win of the week, and his third top-three finish.
The 54.7-kilometer stage, which featured five circuits around Salt Lake City, ended with a 1km climb with a maximum grade of 11 percent. Matthews held off Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) at the line to win. Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager) finished third.
“My midseason training with the team has been perfect preparation for this race,” Matthews said. “I just glued myself to [Van Avermaet’s] wheel and did my best to get around him.”
Van Avermaet attacked midway up the final climb, with Matthews right on his wheel. The pair reached the top with a handful of other riders and when no one seemed to want to start the sprint, Matthews launched himself up the middle of the road. Van Avermaet tried to match his acceleration but came up short.
Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) remains the overall race leader, with a 26-second lead over Van Avermaet. Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) is 40 seconds behind Morton in third.
Morton gave credit to his teammates for keeping him safe and out of the wind.
“The guys were unreal today. I didn’t have to do anything,” Morton said. “Three of those guys have been top-10 in the Tour de France before, and other guys have been world champions or grand-tour stage winners, so to have them riding for me on the front, it’s like a dream. They’re so good at doing it that it makes what should be a stressful day really easy.”
“Ryder [Hesjedal], he could have easily won the stage today. He was really cruising. Instead, he helped me up that last hill,” he said.
Hot from the gun
Thirty seconds from the start of the race, Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) went on the attack, and was quickly joined by Marsh Cooper, Craig Lewis, and four others.
Meanwhile, Van Avermaet flatted two minutes into the race and had to work through the caravan with teammate Yannick Eijssen, who dropped back to help.
A half lap into the race the pack swelled as the break dangled three seconds ahead. As they turned onto Temple Street, a broad boulevard on the far side of the course, the break was reabsorbed, just as Van Avermaet reached the rear of the peloton.
The battle for position was nonstop. Teams were finding their way to the front, and just as quickly were swarmed by other teams.
The charge continues
As they turned onto State Street, the finishing climb that headed up to the State Capitol building, Voigt attacked again and was soon joined by Marsh Cooper (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) tried to bridge but wasn’t making much progress. Then, a group of seven briefly formed.
Garmin controlled the front, putting Hesjedal and Rohan Dennis at the sharp end of the pack to make things difficult. They rolled through the start-finish line, single file. All was calm.
But only a kilometer later, on the sinuous curves on the top of the course, Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy), Craig Lewis (Champion System), and Cooper attacked. Voigt bridged soon after, followed by Chris Baldwin (Bissell), and the break was on.
No rider posed a threat on GC, and so Garmin was comfortable letting this group have its time in the spotlight. As the escapees made their way down the twisting, tree-lined streets of Salt Lake City, they gained 15 seconds on the peloton.
Garmin worked to control the pace on the steep pitches of State Street. They crossed the line 16 seconds back to start lap 4.
The final assault
The break was working well together, and the pack was content to let them ride their race. It was the calm before the storm.
Orica-GreenEdge briefly took the front. The gap held at 15 seconds. Mancebo led across the line with Lewis, Voigt, Baldwin, and Cooper tucked behind him. Soon after, it was a repeat of the end of lap 3, as Hesjedal and Dennis continued to ride the front, calmly pacing along.
A kilometer later, Cooper touched wheels with Baldwin, lost control of his bike and skidded off the road, hitting a young female fan along the roadside. He got up, looked to the child, then the bike, then back to the child, but his time in the break was over. The fan was not hurt, but the break was now four.
“It was just a little brain fart,” Cooper said.
Less than 30 seconds later, Lewis attacked, channeling his inner Jens. The real Jens went after him, but couldn’t catch him. Lewis dangled out front, alone.
“I saw the field coming up on the last lap; I looked back and saw that we only had 15 seconds,” Lewis said. “I figured if I didn’t do anything, Jensie was going to get the [most aggressive rider] jersey, so I had to try something. I knew it wasn’t going to last but I was glad to make it as long as I did.”
The remnants of the breakaway were absorbed by a storming peloton; Magno Nazaret (Funvic-Brasilinvest) had a brief go, but he went nowhere.
As the peloton charged onto Temple Street, Lewis glanced back, looked at the TV moto beside him, and indicated with a not-so-subtle swipe across his neck that he was done.
Garmin, BMC, and Optum were all shuffling for position coming toward the decisive climb up State Street. They made the 90-degree turn and hit 1km to go, as Michael Schär (BMC) took the front.
Not long after, Van Avermaet threw down a crushing attack. But it wasn’t crushing enough, as stage-3 winner Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was able to hold his wheel.
As they crested the climb and turned right with 300 meters to go, Van Avermaet decided to sit up. He was gassed. The lull allowed a small group to reform, and the game of cat and mouse was on.
“I tried to drop Matthews, so I left everything on this climb but I looked back and he was still on my wheel,” Van Avermaet said. “Then you have to make a decision: Do you go to the finish or do you wait and take a chance in the sprint? I tried for the sprint but it was impossible to beat him.”
First to jump was Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthcare), but he was quickly outpaced by Van Avermaet. Then the Belgian, known for his uphill kick, was stormed by a charging Matthews, who crossed the line, arms spread wide, two bike lengths ahead of Van Avermaet and Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager).
“It was pretty much exactly what I expected,” Matthews said. “The boys pretty much did exactly what we said in the meeting to make sure I’m in the best position at the bottom of the climb.
“The team got me onto Greg’s wheel, because he was obviously the favorite for this stage, and I just had to see if I could survive on his wheel. I was lucky to hold it and still have a bit of energy for the sprint. It worked out perfectly.”
Van Avermaet was visibly disappointed as he stepped onto the second step of the podium for the second time in the race.
“If he’s in the wheel it’s hard to beat him. I tried to play my card, but I couldn’t do any better so it’s like this,” he said.
The race continues Saturday with the 182km stage 5, the “queen stage,” from Snowbasin to Snowbird.