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Moreno Hofland wins first stage at Tour of Utah

The 22-year-old Dutch rider sprinted to victory in downtown Cedar City, Utah to claim his first win in the U.S.

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Moreno Hofland (Belkin) sprinted to victory in downtown Cedar City, Utah to claim his first win in the U.S. and the lead in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

The 22-year-old Dutch rider’s Belkin team kept control over the 113.5-mile race, and delivered their sprinter to the final corner in perfect position, despite two major climbs along the route and some wet conditions toward the end of the day.

This was Hofland’s first race after breaking five ribs and vertebrae in a crash on the final day of this year’s Amgen Tour of California.

“It was a hard crash in the Tour of California,” said Hofland. “I think I was three or four weeks off the bike … But I prepared for this race in Park City [Utah] with my team, and I think it was perfect, because I have the stage win.

“The stage was perfect for me because it was hard stage but a sprint finish, so it was good for me. Normally, if it’s hard some guys get dropped, so I am a little bit fresher than some of those guys.”

Early escape

Very early in the stage, with about 108 miles of racing ahead, three riders rode away from the peloton. Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare), Adam Phelan (Drapac), and Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Sportswear Development) amassed a lead of around two minutes before they eased off the gas to allow two additional riders to join their escape — Stephen Leece (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Thomas Soladay (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies).

The break maintained a consistent, although small, lead over the field, with Belkin doing a healthy amount of early pacesetting to keep them in check.

“In the beginning we let the breakaway go because we suspected nobody wanted to help us,” said Hofland. “And that’s exactly how that went … Nobody wanted to help us because they thought I was the favorite today.”

Carpenter won the first points sprint, at around 30 miles in, with Phelan in second and Clarke taking third. From that point on, they headed uphill, tackling the category 1 ascent of Cedar Breaks, to the Brian Head ski resort. With stiff headwinds and grades nearing 13 percent, the 4,000-foot climb took its toll on the escapees, with Soladay dropping from the group approximately 5km from the summit.

When they reached the top, the break had a 3:50 lead over the field, which would prove to be the largest advantage of the day. Carpenter won the king of the mountains sprint and was followed by Phelan and Clarke, matching the results from the intermediate sprint in Parowan, before the climb.

With merely 40 seconds advantage over the peloton, the break of four topped the final climb of the day, a category 4, which Carpenter also won, to make it a clean sweep, with Phelan in second and Lecce third. From there they sped off the top of Bristlecone, back towards Cedar City, where the race began earlier that day.

Matej Mohoric (Cannondale), winner of the 2012 junior world road race championships, took advantage of the breakaway’s narrow advantage and his bold descending skills to bridge the gap to the leaders at about 25 kilometers to go. But despite the added firepower provided by the young Slovenian, the break was not destined to survive.

Cedar City finish circuits

The leaders entered the finish circuit in Cedar City with a 10-second advantage and 20 kilometers to go. Belkin took to the front once again, along with Trek Factory Racing and Garmin-Sharp, to reel back the escapees on the damp 4.5km circuit.

When the catch was imminent at eight kilometers to go, Cameron Wurth (Cannondale) took a flyer, bridging to the breakaway, then riding past them in a solo bid to win.

However, Belkin tightened its grasp on the race, bringing Wurth back, and did the same when Bissell’s Daniel Eaton made a similarly ill-fated solo move.

Heading into the final kilometer, several teams laid their cards on the table, hoping to deliver their sprinters to the line. First, SmartStop brought a train to the front, then Optum tried to control the finale. In the end, it was all Belkin.

The riders in green entered the final 90-degree righthand corner in complete control, setting up their sprinter Moreno Hofland for the win. “I went a little too early into the wind [in the sprint], but luckily I was able to hold it,” the winner said. “It is my first time in a race leader’s jersey, so I am very happy.”

Carpenter’s efforts in the day’s breakaway earned him the first king of the mountains jersey of the race. Tomorrow, Rick Zabel (BMC) will wear the best young riders jersey, and Kocjan will wear the sprinters jersey, although the lead in that classification belongs to Hofland.

Zabel, who matched his season-best result, said he was not thinking of going for the best young rider jersey. “I was just trying to help Danilo [Wyss] in the final as much as I could with the lead out and I still had enough to get seventh,” he said. Wyss finished sixth on the stage.

BMC’s Cadel Evans, racing for the first time since the Tour de Suisse in June, finished 13th to help BMC take the lead in the team classification.

“Coming back into competition, you can never be quite sure where you stand,” Evans said. “But the pace of the race was relatively conservative today, with the climbs, the altitude, the wind and there was a lot of headwind today. So that made it difficult for attacking and staying away. For me, that worked well. The rhythm was a bit friendly and a little bit less race-specific. And most of all, I see myself running okay. But I see the other guys also riding well and functioning well as a team.”