Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong) notched another stripe in his time trial belt Friday night as flew to the stage 3 win in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Phinney topped overall leader Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) by two seconds for his second win of the six-day stage race. Former New Zealand national champ Jeremy Vennell (Bissell) finished third, 16 seconds back.
Leipheimer put time into his GC rivals on the stage and will enter Saturday’s criterium in Park City in yellow.
The Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele was the site for the Friday night time trial. The 9.2-mile course followed the outer service road and its long straightaways separated by a series of 90-degree corners. The final half of the race took place within the confines of the racetrack. Sweeping, banked corners carried riders toward the finish beneath the grandstands as the sun set and temperatures crept downward.
The stage got off to a late start when high temperatures and a packed track schedule forced organizers to move the first rider, Adageo Energy’s Eric Bennett, from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Roadside temperatures climbed beyond the 105 mark by mid-afternoon, but by race time the oppressive heat let up and calm conditions made the track ripe for the picking.
Phinney, who won Tuesday’s prologue over teammate Alex Dowsett, started 20th and rolled down the start ramp to the applause of a few hundred fans. The two-time world pursuit champion kicked up to top speed as he hit the service road, his black skinsuit hunched in contrast to the surrounding desert.
The 20-year-old Radioshack stagiaire turned over a massive gear as he weaved his way through the racetrack toward the finish. He passed at least four riders, the last being Ken Hanson (Team Type 1) near the finish straight. Phinney came across the line, stopping the clock with a time 14 seconds better than Tom Zirbel’s winning mark from a year ago.
Ten minutes later Vennell came through with the second fastest time. The Kiwi complained earlier in the week that the altitude was affecting him. His condition had improved by Friday, though, when Vennell registered a time beneath his result of a year ago. “This was kind of a focus of mine. This time trial suits me well and I enjoy it,” he said. “I just went flat out and closed my eyes a couple of times.”
Meanwhile, Phinney sat checking last year’s results on his phone, two feet from Leipheimer as the overall leader warmed up in the Trek-Livestrong garage bay. Just beyond the garage doors, Holowesko Partners’ Danny Summerhill registered a 17:21 from the 45th start position, placing him in third. The national U23 cyclocross champion was unaware of his time as he relaxed a few doors down from Phinney.
“This is probably one of the coolest TT’s I’ve ever done,” said Summerhill. “It was hard as hell, but nonetheless it was still a blast to be able to just rail the same course that those Porches and Ferraris are doing. It definitely hurt because it’s so wide open that an little bit of wind that blows on you, you can definitely feel it.”
The former Paris-Roubaix Espoirs seventh-place rider’s time would not hold for long, however, as Bissell’s all-rounder Ben Jacques-Maynes came through in 17:10 and Dowsett set a 17:02.
The GC picture
As the overall contenders began to roll out of the start house, Vennell sat second with Dowsett third. The Kiwi entertained non-stop passer-bys in the last garage spot in the grandstand building while the Brit wound down on the trainer.
Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home), Cesar Grajales (On The Rivet-Ion) and Ian Boswell (Bissell) each lost time and would slide down the general classification after the stage. Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) made big gains on a course that suited him well. The Lees McRae College product registered a 17:04, good for fourth at the time, and would go on to move up three spots to sixth overall at the end of the day.
Also on the move up were Phil Zajicek and Darren Lill of Fly V Australia. The duo, who tied in the prologue, scored the same time again Friday, finishing at 17:21. “I nearly crashed three times,” said Zajicek, who rode head down and nearly lost it in the service road corners where team cars had kicked gravel into the road. “I was pushing it. It’s a hard TT. For 15k you see a lot of time separations because it’s such a hard course with a lot of changes in direction, you really have to dial the corners and judge the wind really well.”
Leipheimer, his black Mellow Johnny’s bib stretched over his yellow leader’s jersey, rode calmly to the start through the crowd lining the finish straight. He set off 7:34 p.m. to the day’s loudest applause.
The former local fought his way around the course, a blue Shimano neutral support vehicle in tow, as the crowds overhanging the grandstands waited for the former Tour de France podium finisher to emerge from the final corner. When Leipheimer’s yellow jersey became visible just off the back of Mancebo, the crowds went crazy. The 2007 Tour de France TT winner clocked in at 16:48 – good for an expanded overall lead and second on the stage.
With Leipheimer in the chute and his time still standing over an hour later, Phinney had his second stage win in four days. “It’s obviously a flat course and somewhat technical,” he said. “It makes it more fun racing on a racetrack, going around the bends. I got out there and felt good, stayed right at my limit and held it to the finish. When I crossed the finish line and heard 16:46, I knew it was going to be a good time, based on Zirbel winning last year with 17 flat. I would say the worst part was sitting around afterward, and just waiting for someone to beat me.”
Phinney said that the win gave him confidence ahead of the Tour de l’Avenir and the world championships. He didn’t know he would be racing in Utah until Monday at 5:00 p.m. and the double stage winner was proud of what he’s accomplished in a race that he looked forward to before a crash took him off the startlist in 2009. “It’s an honor for me to win here,” said Phinney. “There are a lot of good guys around.”
Leipheimer will enter Saturday’s demanding Park City Downtown Criterium with a 1:37 advantage over Mancebo. Lill and Zajicek sit at 1:49 and 2:07, respectively. Upstart Boswell is also within striking distance at 2:29.
The 75-minute criterium will punish riders with 120 vertical feet of climbing each lap. The route, which makes use of the parade start of the queen stage from last year, is unrelenting – by the time riders find recovery on the six-block descent, they begin the climb of Main Street again.
Before the race began, many of the favorites thought that Saturday would be a day for the general classification and from the sound of it, the riders chasing Leipheimer plan to make that the case. When asked about the fourth stage, Zajicek smiled from atop his trainer and said, “attack.”