SALT LAKE CITY (VN) — For the American cycling scene, the future is now. And it’s painful. For the older guys.
With one stage to go Sunday at the 2012 Tour of Utah, American development squad Bontrager-Livestrong has two riders in the top 10.
Joe Dombrowski sits fifth, 58 seconds behind race leader Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing Team), and his teammate Ian Boswell is sixth at 1:03.
This isn’t for the young-rider classification, which Dombrowksi leads, but rather for the overall — no small feat for a gaggle of young guys who don’t have a team van and sit in lawn chairs before stages commence.
They have attacked. They rode well in the team time trial. And they’ve stuck together. It’s gone better than anyone could have predicted for a squad that, until now, has raised eyebrows with its invites to high-profile American stage races. That’s likely to taper off now.
“You always try. And hope for the best,” said director Axel Merckx. “We were aiming for a top-10 finish in GC. I think that was realistic for us. But, already, this Tour of Utah has been a really big success for us.”
The Bontrager duo ascended the ranks via the slopes to Snowbird Saturday in stage 5. Boswell attacked first, hoping to win a stage for his late friend Matt Gold, and Dombrowski chased a later move up the road that included Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
“The only thing we decided (Saturday) morning was that we’re going to stay quiet the whole stage, and then wait for the last climb. The guys were still pretty close, and Garmin was going to defend the jersey really hard,” Merckx said.
Near the top of the Snowbird climb, both Dombrowski and Boswell attacked Leipheimer. Oddly, Leipheimer was trying to win the stage while the two Bontrager-Livestrong riders were more concerned with the overall.
“Levi wanted us to pull, because obviously he’s going for the stage and he knows we’re in for GC,” Dombrowski said. “I thought it would be good to be a bit more conservative. … We didn’t get the win, but I think this sets us up nice for GC.”
The two are racing well against an honor roll of American riders, a fact that’s not lost on Dombrowski.
“Before that selection [on Snowbird] happened, if you look at who was there, you’ve got [Chris] Horner and [Tom] Danielson and [Christian] Vande Velde and Levi. Those are the best American stage racers. For us to be able to ride with those guys, that’s surprising, for sure,” he said.
Boswell admitted he’s got a few things to learn, but he went down swinging on Snowbird.
“We’re such a young team. We don’t really have any specific plans,” he said. With about 4km to go, he said, Leipheimer came across to him with Dombrowski. Boswell tried to come over the top of Leipheimer with 1km remaining. He should have waited a bit longer.
“Which is a rookie mistake,” Boswell said. “But that’s why we’re here. We’re learning. We’re definitely strong enough to win these races. It’s just a matter of figuring out the tactics.”
The education continues on Sunday in a final stage that will come down to the slopes of Empire Pass — a steep stage that sees a climb near the finish town of Park City that climbs 3,000 feet in 10km.
“It will be good for tomorrow,” Dombrowski said of the team’s position. “It just makes for an opportunity to play more cards.”
“We’ve ridden that climb — it’s a steep climb. We’ve just gotta be smart and ride hard,” he said. “It’s really just that last hill. If we have it, we’ll attack.”
At this point, who would expect anything else?