Thursday’s second stage at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah is a brute. Riders roll along nearly flat roads west of Utah Lake before passing through the town of Nephi near the southern end of the Wasatch Mountains.
The nearly 13-mile climb of the range’s tallest peak begins almost immediately after the peloton leaves town. The serious business comes at the winter closure gate, about 65 miles from the start.
The gate marks the start of a five-mile section of 10-percent-plus grades. The road eases back slightly midway up the climb, but a series of steep ramps and false flats take riders to the finish at almost 9,300 feet.
The pace in stage 1 was indicative of the hard day awaiting the peloton. While the stage finished with a long descent of Emigration Canyon, the Big Mountain stage had been decisive the last two years. There was nothing doing this time around, however, as the overall contenders played their cards close to the chest and David Tanner (Fly V Australia) rode to a breakaway win.
Fresh off two weeks of sea-level criterium racing in Europe, Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) was surprised by the pace. “We weren’t going very hard. I was still there and I’m not in my best shape,” he said. “Maybe I’m better than I thought.”
The Quick Step-bound Dutchman may be better than he thought. Best Utah rider Jeff Louder (BMC Racing) said the tempo was high, but not break-neck all day. “There wasn’t a lot of talking today,” said Louder, the 2008 overall winner. “It was pretty intense. It was really fast. All day we were going really quick and there was a lot of tailwind. Really the only time to settle down was after we went through the Morgan Valley, after the feedzone and we were heading toward the climb.”
Two riders used to dishing out the pain in the mountains were hurting Wednesday. Consummate veteran Chris Baldwin (UnitedHealthcare) and Tour of California KOM Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1) each had trouble matching the pace on the day’s two KOM’s. “Yesterday I was really suffering,” said Rabou.
George Hincapie (BMC) said that the pace wasn’t punishing, but with no acclimation, the day was no walk in the park for the U.S.champion.
Did the peloton sit up ahead of what may be one of the hardest day’s in the race’s history?
“I think there was a little bit of that, mostly because we just know how hard (Thursday)’s going to be,” former Garmin pro Jason Donald, who is riding with Rio Grande Racing, said on Thursday. “Today’s the real day. Nothing really matters until today.”
Alex Hagman, who is supporting Cesar Grajales’ GC bid for On The Rivet-Ion, agreed. “You can tell a lot of the top guys weren’t throwing it all out on the line,” he said. “It was going to come together on that descent and with 50 guys making it over that climb, it wasn’t hard, hard. It was hard, but it wasn’t putting the nail on the coffin kind of hard.”
With narrow time differences, a punishing mountaintop finish and a strong chance of rain, Thursday is in fact the day for the first GC shots to fire. With somewhat fresh legs, the contenders will go full punch to Mount Nebo and we will no doubt see a dramatic shuffling in the GC.