Michael Matthews (Rabobank) won stage 3 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Thursday. BMC Racing’s Michael Schär and Brent Bookwalter were second and third, respectively.
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) finished in the reduced peloton to protect his overall lead.
“Today was just trying to survive until the finish, because it’s the shortest stage,” said Matthews. “I can climb OK, but not if they go really fast up the long climbs. Today was survival and to see what I had left for the finish.”
Matthews was among five riders to make the day’s long breakaway. Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale) initiated the move early in the 85.7-mile stage from Ogden to the University of Utah Research Park in Salt Lake City. When Matthews, Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing), Thomas Rohregger (RadioShack-Nissan) and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) joined the U.S. road champion — and the group culled a few riders — the long move was made.
“Michael and I were both there at the bottom of the descent, and it didn’t take a genius to know that’s when the breakaway was going to go, as Garmin was kind of regrouping,” said Duggan. “We just rolled through and kept the momentum going and got a little group going without much effort.”
Garmin put Peter Stetina and Dave Zabriskie on the front of the peloton early and with small gaps in the GC, Matthews and company never could push their advantage out to more than five minutes. That didn’t deter Duggan, who has one eye on the general classification, from pressing in the breakaway and fighting for the mountains jersey.
“We only have six riders. If you’re in position, you have to go for it. The chance might not come again later,” he said. “It worked out. I’m still in contention for the GC, and I have the KOM jersey. And I didn’t have to deal with the peloton all day, so that was pretty nice.”
Tyler Farrar joined in the work at the front after catching back onto the bunch, giving Garmin three men to pull, but Stetina said the gap got too big for comfort and the team had to push hard to limit its losses.
“It was hard to decide who to let go. We have a solid cushion with our win yesterday, but we can’t let anyone get too much time,” said Stetina. “But then all of the sudden it was ballooning out to four, four-and-a-half minutes, and we started to panic. So that just made it a really hard day. [The race was] really fast all day, and there were a lot of dead legs by the end. It was one of the harder days, and I think it caught everyone by surprise a little bit.”
With the growing peloton bearing down on them low on the final of three rated climbs, the Cat. 2 Big Mountain, the breakaway fell apart. Rohregger attacked, but soon fell off the pace, while Tschopp and Duggan set out on their own. The BMC man was soon alone and carried less than a minute’s advantage over the summit of the climb.
Tschopp did well to hold off the chase on the descent, keeping the bunch at 20 seconds until he rode onto the flatter roads leading to the finish. But with Liquigas, including Duggan, pulling the peloton, Tschopp was doomed. The bunch drew him in 6.5 miles from the finish and the race reset for a sprint from the peloton of around 50 riders.
Matthews was there and used his finishing power — even after spending much of the day off the front — to get the stage win he chased without success at the Amgen Tour of California in May.
“I didn’t do a very good tactical job in the finish,” he said. “I tried to follow (Freddie) Rodriguez, because I heard he’s a pretty good sprinter, then it got a bit messy. Some guys came underneath on the last corner with 800 to go, so I lost a couple positions there. Rory Sutherland started moving up with 300 to go, so I just followed him and started my sprint with 200 to go.”