By Brian Holcombe
The top ten of the general classification at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah after the stage 3 individual time trial is filled with familiar names – Mancebo, Baldwin, Bookwalter. One name in that top ten is making waves in the Beehive State this week – that of fifth-place Kelly Benefit Strategies rookie Matthew Busche.
Busche hung with the first chase group in each of the first stages, contributing significantly to the chase of Francisco Mancebo and Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing) down Emigration Canyon in stage 1 and matching the relentless attacks in the yellow jersey group by the OUCH-Maxxis duo of Chris Baldwin and Patrick McCarty, as well as Jeff Louder (BMC) on Mt. Nebo in stage 2.
With a top 20 result/ in Friday’s stage 3 individual time trial, Busche sits 1:10 behind Mancebo in the overall heading into the queen stage on Saturday.
Busche signed with the Kelly team in early August following the Tour of Elk Grove. Team directors Ken Mills and Jonas Carney are known to do their homework as well as anyone in the domestic peloton before signing new riders and Mills said Friday that he had been watching Busche for close to two years.
“We’re very picky on who we pick up,” Mills said. “The biggest thing personality-wise is that none of the guys have big egos and that’s the thing I love about the guys.”
Busche followed a popular route to the domestic peloton, turning to the bike when an injury forced him, as a college freshman, to turn away from his first sport, running, for fitness. Busche began riding in 2004 and racing in 2005 while restarting his running career and earning All American honors at Luther College as an upper classman.
Busche turned his full focus to cycling in 2008, riding with the Milwaukee-based IS Corp/Nova Cyclery amateur team. He registered solid elite regional results in 2008, including the Wisconsin state road race championship, which he successfully defended in 2009.
Busche first joined the Kelly team as a guest rider at the Joe Martin Stage Race earlier this year. He had crashed out of Gila weeks earlier and returned mid-pack results at Joe Martin. Busche caught fire in June, however, back with his IS Corp team, with a win in the 2016 Olympic road race test event at the Tour of America’s Dairyland and a top 10 overall finish at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
Mills signed Busche following a brief negotiation in early August and brought the young Midwesterner onto the squad for the Tour of Utah with great hopes and low pressure. The situation has been ideal for Busche’s professional debut, allowing him to remain under the radar of most teams in the peloton as he has emerged as the team’s leader on the road.
“I came out here sort of last minute,” Busche said. “I had just signed with Kelly and came out here on a last minute decision and haven’t had much altitude, but things are going surprisingly well and I’m feeling good and my legs are responding well so far.”
Busche has taken full advantage of his unknown status in Utah. “None of these guys knew me. It wasn’t my job to do anything but respond and if I felt really good at the end, you know, give it a shot,” he said, discussing his position in the first chase group late in stage 2. “But you know, put myself in good position now and if I feel really good on Saturday, assuming I’m still there, maybe I could throw something out then.”
Busche appeared comfortable as he climbed with the heavyweights on Thursday. As Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) and Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell) were dropped and Mancebo and Sevilla dangled off the back of the group in the final 10 km of the final climb, Busche hung tight, maintaining a low profile in the middle of the group.
Longtime professional Scott Moninger will guest direct the Kelly team on Saturday. If Busche is with the leaders early on the 20 km, 8-10 percent Snowbird climb, look for Moninger to employ the shrewd tactical sense that guided him to 275 career wins and push the newcomer to show his mettle following the attacks of the other overall contenders and perhaps launching a bid to take his first NRC stage win and the overall.
Regardless of the Saturday’s result, Busche is turning heads and is happy to be in his professional debut in Utah. As he said Friday, “Everything is pretty awesome.”