OGDEN, Utah (VN) — With a brutal 50 miles to go and temperatures in the mid-90s, Jesse Anthony launched a solo attack trying to bridge a gap to a group of four leaders a few minutes up the road.
He called it “the dumbest suicide move” he could think of.
Then, after blowing up the ascent of the North Ogden Pass to move into the stage lead at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Anthony was passed by an elite foursome of riders that included Levi Leipheimer, Janez Brajkovic, Sergio Henao and Oscar Sevilla at the bottom of the mountain.
With less than 20 miles to go, he looked to his side as they passed and mustered up the strength to tuck into the slipstream.
“It gave me the perfect opportunity to sit on,” he said.
It turns out, it was also the perfect day for Anthony in many ways. The Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth rider spent much of the final 20 miles catching his breath, recovering and plotting his strategy after the gap over a chase group of elite riders faded.
As his group of five turned the final corner, Anthony let his relatively fresh legs power him to a victory with a fierce sprint that landed him in the sprint jersey and, more importantly, on the top step of the podium.
Henao, wearing the yellow jersey after Tuesday’s prologue for the Gobernacion de Antioquia team from Colombia, held on to finish second with Sevilla checking in at third. Leipheimer picked up a fourth-place finish while Brajkovic placed fifth.
Leipheimer was surprised his little group was able to stay away over the final 20 miles and that the final gap of 2:35 essentially turned the Tour of Utah into a five-man race over the final four days of action.
RealCyclist.com’s Francisco Mancebo now sits 2:43 off the pace with Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) sitting at 2:46 and 2:48 respectively.
Sevilla still sits second overall just seven seconds back while Leipheimer is well within striking distance at 13 seconds. Anthony sits fourth just 18 seconds back while Brajkovic is a comfortable fifth 21 seconds behind Henao.
After the main field began the climb of the North Ogden Pass for the third time, Leipheimer put in a little dig to test his legs and saw an opening.
“It was just a spur of the moment attack,” Leipheimer said. “I noticed people were really hurting. So I asked myself why not try a little bit.”
Leipheimer was countered by Sevilla and then joined by Henao and Brajkovic. The foursome grouped together at the bottom of the hill and, with Anthony in tow, stepped on the gas and settled into a rotation.
“It was like a team pursuit,” Leipheimer said, noting the perfect rotation in the break. “Everybody gave it everything they had.”
As the gap grew, the five members of the break began strategizing.
“I don’t think anyone expected that today would blow up the race the way it did,” Leipheimer said.
With the overall threats to the GC significantly impacted, the group of four front-runners plus Anthony will play the rest of the Tour of Utah carefully and try to stay out of trouble.
Van Garderen held onto his Best Young Rider jersey by finishing with the main pack, while Rubens Bertogliati captured the King of the Mountains jersey after being first to the top of the pass on the first two ascents.
Bissell’s Jay Thomson was part of the early four-man break and ended up wearing the Most Aggressive Rider jersey after launching a solo attack after the second sprint point in downtown Ogden. He was eventually caught by Anthony on the third climb, which set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Thursday’s stage 2 is one for the sprinters with a relatively flat trip around Utah Lake and ending in Provo.
Wednesday’s victory was especially sweet for Anthony after the risky moves earlier in the race.
“Call it stupid, but it worked out,” Anthony said. “I don’t claim to be smart, but I try hard.”