Sutherland and UHC back off Utah overall, focus on stages

UnitedHealthcare turned its attention from GC to stages ahead of the Tour of Utah and it's already paid off

OGDEN, Utah (VN) — For years, Rory Sutherland has hunted a win at one of the United States’ major stage races. He finally got one on Tuesday when he launched to victory in the oppressive Utah heat.

Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) has been in pursuit of an overall win at a major stage race. Now, the Aussie finds himself in the leader’s jersey at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. But he may not be fighting to keep it.

“I’ve been trying for the overall in races like California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and hovered around seventh to 10th a few times. And you kind of stop trying to win stages so much and try to concentrate on [the overall],” he said Tuesday. “So after California this year we really sat down, looked at it and said ‘what have we been good at?’ How can we actually win a stage or get more out of it than what we’re getting?”

He’s been seventh at the Amgen Tour each of the last two years and finished 10th at last year’s USA Pro Challenge. Sutherland won the SRAM Tour of the Gila and the Tour de Beauce — smaller UCI races — this year.

His team decided to hunt stages rather than place Sutherland high in the overall. There’s reason to think the boys in blue can do some damage here in Utah. UnitedHealthcare is one of the strongest U.S.-based teams and boasts a consummate all-rounder in Sutherland and a gritty sprinter in Jake Keough. The team isn’t as tired as some of the larger squads fresh off the Tour de France, either.

Sutherland, for example, has been able to train at home in Boulder, Colorado, at altitude, and race a few criteriums as well.

“It gives you a sense of what you’re doing, and the experience to handle a finish like that as well. You come around the last corner and get some goose bumps going and you just kind of cross your fingers that nobody can come around you,” he said.

And Monday, no one could.

“As a team, we’ve been doing the big races in the U.S.… and we’ve been competitive, I think, at pretty much all of them. But we just seemed to miss that stage victory. And we haven’t managed to win one,” he said. “I’ve been trying to win one of these for six years in the U.S., and I’ve got enough experience now to finally get it done I guess.”

Of course, Sutherland won’t lie down when the going gets steep later this week.

“It’s kind of going back to basics and taking it day-by-day and just race every day to win a stage with whatever guy you have,” Sutherland said. “I’m a fairly big guy. I can climb all right. But it’s a pretty brutal tour. I don’t feel the pressure to really go for the overall. But like I say, if I have the legs when I get there then we try and see what happens.”