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By Neal Rogers
Disproving critics that downplayed his Successful Living team’s chances of taking victory at the national level in 2008, Argentinean Ricardo Escuela won the stage 3 criterium of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Friday evening in downtown Salt Lake City. It was Successful Living’s third NRC win of the 2008 season.
At a race short on sprinters due to this weekend’s national criterium championships, Escuela won the sprint ahead of Rock Racing’s Freddie Rodriguez, with the two fastmen well ahead of third-placed Jonny Clarke of Toyota-United.
The 60-minute four-corner criterium held in Salt Lake City’s Rio Grande Depot was dominated by race leader Blake Caldwell’s Garmin-Chipotle team. The team’s Will Frischkorn, Danny Pate and Tom Danielson took up residence at the front of the pack and shut down most attempts at breakaways.
The exception was a mid-race flyer by Toyota-United’s Ben Day, who was joined a few laps later by Bissell’s Ted King. The two maintained a gap for about 11 laps, but were reeled in with six to go, when Garmin and Rock Racing took over the front of the race.
Rodriguez and Escuela battled back and forth at the front for the last lap, with Escuela leading out the sprint, but in the end Rodriguez could not come around. The pair finished with a substantial gap over Clarke. Caldwell was fourth, closely marked by GC favorite Oscar Sevilla of Rock Racing in fifth.
Toyota gets it rolling
Toyota started the race with aggression, with Kiwi Heath Blackgrove attacking on the first lap. However, led by Frischkorn and Pate, two Coloradans fresh off the Tour de France, Garmin repeatedly stifled attempts to break away, often within one lap.
Garmin’s hard tempo also served the sprint teams. However, that all changed once Day was off the front halfway through. The time trial specialist jumped the field and quickly opened a 15-second gap, and within 10 minutes, King bridged across.
“I feel I have good legs in this race but I still don’t seem to be able to climb out of a wet paper bag,” Day said. “I was able to ride away solo for the majority of the race and I was just cruising out the front until Teddy King rode across to me. That kind of stirred up the hornets’ nest and they mowed us down pretty quick.”
With Toyota’s Aussie sitting five minutes down on GC following Thursday’s mountain stage, Garmin eased off the pace. Pate said the team was “content to let Day stay away [for the stage win],” but Rock and Successful Living felt otherwise.
“Garmin’s pace helped do our job for us, but once Day was off, Garmin was not chasing super hard so we had all our guys at the front chasing,” Escuela said. “But once we brought Day back, Garmin took up the chase again.”
With four laps to go, Escuela sat third wheel, behind Frischkorn and Successful Living’s points leader Brad White.
In the final laps Pate and Frischkorn continued to drive the field, with Rock amassed behind the Garmin team. However on the final lap Garmin’s Jason Donald attacked with Caldwell, while Frischkorn dove into the penultimate turn, slowing the rest of the field. Rock’s Cesar Grajales jumped, bringing Rodriguez and Escuela with him. With a long 250 meters to go Escuela opened up his sprint, and Rodriguez was unable to come around. Clarke finished third, with Caldwell a surprising fourth.
“I knew there weren’t too many sprinters here, and this was a good opportunity for our team,” Escuela said. “When I saw Rock at the front towards the end, I just stayed as close to Freddie as I could.”
Rodriguez said a stomach virus nearly kept him from finishing Thursday’s road race stage and had him considering withdrawing from the stage race before the criterium.
“So second isn’t bad. I gave it everything I had,” Rodriguez said. “We did a good job of getting to the last corner because there were a lot of attacks going on. There were two attacks on the backside going into the last two corners and [Cesar] Grajales did a good job of chasing them down. [Escuela] then jumped on Cesar’s wheel and I jumped on his wheel. But coming around the last corner, one of my teammates thought the other guy was yelling to ‘go,’ so he sat up. When he sat up, there was a lull in the sprint and I couldn’t make up the gap.”
Pate, Frischkorn and Danielson all agreed that they hadn’t burnt too many matches riding at the front. “Ah, tonight was only an hour, and it wasn’t such an effort,” Pate said. “With the tailwind on the finishing straight, it wasn’t much harder for us than for the rest of the field.”
That’s a good thing considering that Caldwell, Donald and Stetina — three less-experienced Garmin riders sitting in the top 10 overall — will certainly lean on the team’s established veterans on Saturday’s pivotal 98-mile stage, which includes almost 15,000 feet of climbing with five KOMs on the way to the finish at Snowboard ski resort.