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Little Jelly Belly fights to slay WorldTour goliaths

Jelly Belly hopes to defend Lachlan Morton's advantage to the end. But WorldTour teams will be looking to take down the smaller squad.

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BOUNTIFUL, Utah (VN) — With the Tour of Utah heading toward its climb-heavy finale, the pressure is on Jelly Belly – Maxxis to shepherd race leader Lachlan Morton to victory.

After crossing the finish line of stage 5 in Bountiful, Morton, 24, said his team is up to the challenge.

“I’m not worried about my team,” Morton said. “I know my guys are up to the challenge — the question is how long my legs will stay this good.”

Morton seized the lead of the Tour of Utah on Wednesday’s stage, which climbed up and over Mt. Nebo before finishing in Payson.

Since then, Morton’s team has patrolled the front of the peloton, chasing down attacks from rivals, and controlling the gap to breakaways. During Friday’s hilly stage from Antelope Island to Bountiful, Jelly Belly held the day’s breakaway in check, before unleashing Morton on the final climb.

“We held the gap at four minutes,” Morton said. “We only used three guys.”

The question is whether Jelly Belly — which is one of race’s smaller Continental teams — can withstand the coming terrain, as well as the inevitable attacks from the larger WorldTour squads. Over the next two days, the peloton will climb Guardsman Pass (9,727ft), Little Cottonwood Canyon (8,729ft), and Empire Pass (8,970ft).

Jelly Belly has already shown its ability to shred the peloton at the base of a climb. On stage 3, the team surged to the front of the bunch at the foot of Mt. Nebo, before Morton sprung away.

Whether the team can protect Morton over long, soaring climbs is yet to be seen.

Tao Geoghegan Hart (Axeon Hagens Berman) believes Jelly Belly may have wasted some energy chasing down attacks during the flatter sections of stages 4 and 5.

“They have another two big days and they were chasing down breakaways like they were trying to win the sprint,” Geoghegan Hart said after stage 5. “They’ve ridden at the front a lot, and I can’t always understand their tactics.”

Jelly Belly director Danny Van Haute said the team’s collective strength, matched with Morton’s abilities on the uphills, gives him an advantage. Jelly Belly has been in the domestic peloton since 2000, and Van Haute said this year’s team is the best GC-focused squad he’s ever had.

“We’ve always been a team to get in the breakaways,” Van Haute said. “This year the focus has been Lachlan and [Angus Morton] and Taylor [Shelden] and what we can do with them.”

Morton currently sits just nine seconds ahead of Andrew Talansky of the Cannondale – Drapac sqaud, who is in his final preparation period before the Vuelta a España.

Another team within striking distance is BMC, which has Darwin Atapuma, Joey Rosskopf, and Taylor Eisenhart all within 1:34 of Morton. Rosskopf said the final climb of the race, Empire Pass, suits Atapuma.

“We have cards to play,” Rosskopf said. “We will go for it on Empire.”