Jai Crawford (Fly V Australia) crowned the queen stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Sunday when he rode away from Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) midway up Little Cottonwood Canyon to take the mountaintop win at Snowbird Ski Resort. Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) rode away from his rivals up the final climb to finish second, on Crawford’s wheel, and seal the overall. Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) came across one minute later with Alex Hagman (On the Rivet-Ion) on his wheel for third on the day.
Blowing and rolling from Kimble Junction
The queen stage got off to a royal start Sunday morning in Kimble Junction, just outside of Park City. The looming weather of the late afternoon lurked over The Canyons Resort, and strong headwinds faced the peloton as it made its way south from Newpark Resort.
The early break jumped into the wind two miles into the stage and the group had all the ingredients to make a long run to Snowbird. Sprint leader David Tanner (Fly V Australia) and Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong) were there with teammates to battle over their one-point difference in the points competition. Stage 4 winner Jeff Louder (BMC Racing) made the group as well as two riders that were on the opposite end of the Park City Criterium. Taylor Kneuven (Rio Grande) and Sid Taberlay (Cal Giant Berry Farms) were reinstated by officials after being time cut Saturday and made their way into the break.
Also in the move were Robert Britton and Frank Pipp (Bissell), Ian Gray (Rio Grande), Chris Jones and Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1), Chris Baldwin and Max Jenkins (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis), Ben King and Alex Dowsett (Trek-Livestrong), Darren Rolfe (Fly V Australia), and Andrew Barker, Caleb Fairly and Danny Summerhill (Holowesko Partners). Jones was the best placed on GC at 6:13 and the chasing pack kept the gap sub 1:30 as they rolled over a series of quarter-mile-long ramps on the three-lane SR 248.
Tanner zipped the copper jersey a bit tighter when he took the first intermediate sprint at mile 17.9. The Aussie held off Phinney when the double stage winner kicked a pedal 75 meters from the line. With the result, Tanner pushed his lead out to three points with just one sprint remaining. The peloton was giving a hard chase in the wind, though, and the group’s advantage sank to just 40 seconds at the line.
“For me, once we were in that breakaway, it was vital that I win the first sprint,” said Tanner. “I won it fairly comfortably, so I knew that I had good legs and all I had to do was at worst get second.”
As the break turned right through the rural town of Kamas, Dowsett, Baldwin, King and Pipp drilled the pace and guttered the group in the gusting crosswinds. It was full gas in the front and the break pushed its gap back out to 1:20 as it rolled along Jordanelle Reservoir toward the Alpine Loop.
The route around the reservoir was filled with short power climbs. Louder and the Holowesko riders came to the front of the group on every pitch, urging them on. When the leaders got their first view of the sheer face of Mt. Timpanogas, 30 miles into the race, their advantage had slipped again below a minute. Fly V Australia, Canyon and Jamis-Sutter Home led the chase in the field, which rode two-wide on fresh blacktop under drizzling skies.
“We were riding hard tempo,” said Fly V Australia’s Phil Zajicek, who entered the stage fourth overall. “We were going hard.”
Zajicek’s squad was chasing to get Crawford within distance to jump across to the leaders on the day’s first KOM climb. Canyon was protecting Mancebo’s GC place, while Jamis worked to put Tyler Wren into the final top-10 and make a run at scoring team points in the National Racing Calendar standings.
“We missed that big move, so we needed to play our card and try and keep it close,” Wren said. “I was just trying to ride for GC, stay in the top 10, which is good for us in a race like this.”
Up the road, Summerhill took a 25-meter gap into the run-in at the final sprint line in Midway. Phinney and Tanner came around him with 100 meters to go, the former taking top points. The copper jersey wearer came through tucked tightly on Phinney’s wheel for second, securing himself the final jersey.
Reshuffling on the loop
Fifteen miles of exposed, rolling highway carried the breakaway to the right-hand turn onto the Alpine Loop with a 55-second advantage. Dowsett, then King, led the leaders onto the lower reaches of the climb under a blanket of dense pine forest. When the latter pulled off, Fairly went to the front and upped the pace with Jenkins in his wheel. Louder was next to crack the whip and when he took the head of the break, riders began dropping off the pace one at a time.
The group’s advantage was dropping as well and when the road narrowed to a single lane halfway up the almost nine-mile climb, the lead group was just 30 seconds ahead of the rapidly closing peloton. Crawford and de Maar jumped across from the field and gave the break new life, just before the move took its last breath.
“Crawford and I jumped across and closed the gap pretty easily and we started pulling straight away so we dropped a couple of guys,” said de Maar, who was riding for a stage win at the end of a disappointing week for UHC.
From the reshuffle emerged a new, seven-man break: Crawford, de Maar, Jenkins, Jones, King, Louder and Rolfe. The Fly V Australia tandem drove the group over single-lane, serpentine road through dense aspen grove. “I just gave Darren Rolfe a yell and he got on the front and started riding,” said Crawford. “He was amazing today.”
Jenkins came unhitched a kilometer from the summit and Rolfe took the group over the day’s first KOM with a one-minute lead before plunging down the long, technical descent toward the Highland suburb of Salt Lake City.
Their man across the gap, Fly V Australia came off the front, forcing Mancebo to set pace for the field. Fresh pavement greeted riders on the downhill, which ran over a series of long straightaways and tight hairpin corners.
Swindlehurst swings on Suncrest
The six leaders arrived at the Suncrest climb in temperatures fit for baking. All in for the team’s stage win and GC podium, Rolfe did the lion’s share of the work to get the group across to the climb. Crawford, King and Louder, their open jerseys flying in the wind, led the group as the road pitched up toward nine percent 1.5 miles in. De Maar rode the front as well, his Netherlands Antilles champion’s jersey zipped and his elbows characteristically locked as his shoulders swayed ever slightly on top of his effort.
The field took 30 seconds out of the leaders on the exposed, windy climb. When second overall Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) turned off the front of the peloton midway up, Burke Swindlehurst (KFAN-teamgive) attacked. The effort split the field, catching Leipheimer and Mancebo out.
“I tried a couple times, knowing that it would be really difficult to match somebody like Levi or Mancebo on this climb,” said Swindlehurst, who doubled as the race’s competitions director. “I really wanted to see if I could get a little head start going up that so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the acceleration that was coming at the bottom.”
Brad White (UnitedHealthcare) led a small group across to Swindlehurst over the top, but Mancebo led the chase from the field. A hard effort for the Spaniard closed the gap as the field made its way along the Wasatch foothills east of Salt Lake City.
Crawford goes it alone on Little Cottonwood
Up the road, the break approached the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon together. The stair stepping climbs to gain the canyon tore at the riders’ legs, but a solid tailwind gave them some hope.
As soon as they made the right turn from Little Cottonwood Canyon Road onto stage highway 210 at the base of the climb, Crawford threw the first rock at his breakmates. The Aussie climber knew the odds were in his favor for the summit finish and he opened the legs up right away. The attack dropped Jones, Louder and Rolfe, but de Maar and King held tight.
Less than a mile later, King relented and fell off the pace, hunched over his bars as his shot at Trek-Livestrong’s third stage win of the week rode away. De Maar was the next to go in the howling cross-headwind, three miles into the seven-mile ascent. The Dutchman, who arrived from sea level, tried in vain to mach Crawford, but melted down in the heat of the afternoon.
“I felt really good until five, six k to go when I blew up and had to let him go,” said de Maar.
“We worked together – it was incredibly windy,” said Crawford of his key moment. “Eventually, we were both exceptionally tired, it was a really tough day, and I just rode away.”
From there, Crawford rode smoothly in the saddle, maintaining a consistent tempo up the 10-percent average gradient. In his first U.S. season, the young Australian had worked in support of his team’s GC riders, not winning a race yet. As he rose above Salt Lake City, Crawford concentrated on distancing his breakaway partners and holding off the GC contenders that were surging toward the finish.
“I knew Levi was coming,” said Crawford. “There was nothing I could do about it except ride as hard as I could.”
Mancebo set a murderous tempo in the field at the bottom of the climb. Fourth and sixth overall, Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) were the first of the contenders to come off the group. Zajicek, more used to dishing the pain out from the front of the race, said at the finish that he is fighting the same infection that he has suffered from since early July and was headed to the hospital after the podium.
By the time they were two miles into the canyon, what had been a 40-strong group shrank to a handful of the elite climbers. Alex Hagman (On the Rivet-Ion), Pat McCarty (Rio Grande) and Lachlan Morton (Holowesko Partners) were there. Third overall Darren Lill (Fly V Australia) was not. The wind swirled beneath sheets of granite high in the canyon as the dropped riders sank behind the yellow jersey group.
Within two miles of the finish Mancebo, the 2009 overall winner, faltered and Leipheimer rode away alone. “He dropped everybody. When I saw that it was just him and I left, I thought, ‘Well, I might as well start helping him out. It’ll only help me as well,’” said Leipheimer. “But unfortunately, he pulled for a long time, even before the climb, so he couldn’t stay with me, but I figured I better go. Better safe than sorry.”
The former Tour de France podium finisher set a heavy tempo over the steep closing miles, riding through de Maar and King en route to Crawford’s wheel. Leipheimer rode onto the back of the leader on the road a few hundred meters from the finish. Crawford, his jersey swung open, was able to hold the surging race leader off for the stage win and what would end up a major leap up the GC standings.
“I made a big effort to catch up with him and I caught up with him right at the end,” said Leipheimer. “I think he left a little bit in the tank. I think the bottom line is that he deserved the stage win more than anybody.”
Next through the finish were Mancebo and Hagman. Hagman, a Bahati Foundation refugee, caught onto the Spaniard with 200 meters to go, but Mancebo held him off at the line for the final time bonus. Pat McCarty came through just off Hagman’s wheel to close a successful tour, in which he guest rode for the Colorado-based Rio Grande team. Both riders secured top 10 finishes at Snowbird.
“It was just every man for himself,” said Hagman. “The other day (after stage 1) I said it wasn’t hard, hard. This was hard. This was pretty much nail in the coffin hard. I haven’t puked after a race since I was a junior and this one made me hurt for sure.”
The third group through the finish was a party of revelations. The junior Morton gutted out a seventh-place finish ahead of best young rider Ian Boswell (Bissell) and Matt Cooke (KFAN-teamgive). Cooke’s ride was arguably the best of his career, while Boswell and Morton confirmed the form they’d shown all week in the mountains.
“I’m surprised I made it to the top of the climb. I was pretty cooked early on,” said Boswell, who finished third at Mt. Nebo. “He was behind me for best young rider, so he did a lot of the work up the climb and I just knew I needed to hang with him… For me, it’s definitely my biggest result overall.”
Crawford’s win came on his last day of U.S. racing this year. “It’s been an incredible year for us as a team,” he said. “I spent the year working for those guys and this is actually my first win of the year on my last day of racing in America.”
Leipheimer, who rode solo and started the week without his eyes on the overall, confirmed his form after a disappointing Tour de France. “I think Quebec and Montreal are going to be very hard, very punchy, but I think I got good training in here,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s going to pan out well for those races.
“I think the whole race has been very hard everyday. There are no field sprints, two time trials, the criterium was hard and then the three hard road races. For me, I’m a climber and I love that, so that’s why I’m here and I had a great time.”
Brief results: Stage:
- 1. Jai Crawford, Fly V Australia
- 2. Levi Leipheimer, Mellow Johnny’s
- 3. Francisco Mancebo Perez, Canyon Bicycles