Michael Schär (BMC Racing) held off the peloton for a dramatic win in Torrey, Utah, after more than 100 miles off the front, four categorized climbs, and late-race cramps that nearly shattered his chances.
The 2013 Swiss national road race champion proved to be the strongest on a course that included more than 10,000 feet of climbing. After stage 2, he sits second on GC behind Jure Kocjan (SmartStop), who assumes the lead after winning the field sprint Tuesday at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
Tuesday’s stage was Schär’s first win of 2014.
“It was a really tough day today,” said Schär. “I had a good climb, I knew I had good lungs, good legs. Normally I do better the higher we go. On top of the climb I felt very good, with four minutes advantage. Then we went down and all of a sudden I got some cramps. I had to change my shoes in the morning because I broke the sole. So, new shoes, new cleats. A millimeter difference after 200 kilometers makes a big difference. And I had the worst cramps of my life. I could barely pedal at some times. I had to drink a lot of electrolytes. Then in the last two kilometers I saw that [the peloton] was approaching and I was going in slow motion. And then with 100 meters to go, I was just thinking, ‘Now, now, they are coming.’ [I was] So anxious.”
The day’s breakaway
The early breakaway was initiated by Schär, Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), Ben Day (UnitedHealthcare), and Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Sportswear Development). Voigt was motivated to get away early, featuring in several other attacks in the opening miles before the day’s escape was established.
Soon after, Ramiro Rincon (Funvic BrasilInvest-Sao Jose Dos Campos) and Darren Lapthorne (Drapac) bridged to the four leaders, just in time to tackle the first KOM, a category 4 climb to Red Canyon.
Rosskopf took maximum KOM points, followed by Schär and Rincon.
By the time the leaders reached Cannonville, about 32 miles into the 130.7-mile stage, they’d stretched their advantage to 6:45. There, Voigt claimed the day’s first intermediate sprint, followed by Rincon and Lapthorne.
At around 47 miles in, the break crested the second categorized climb of the day, Grand Staircase, where Schär took maximium KOM points, followed by Rosskopf, then Lapthorne.
The lead group is reduced to two
With their lead dwindling to 2:20, Schär decided to extend his gap over the summit and pare down the breakaway to just himself and Rosskopf.
Schär had good legs and took the third KOM as well, over Hogsback, followed by Rosskopf and Day.
On the toughest climb of the day, a category 1, up Boulder Mountain, Rosskopf could not keep the pace; Schär forged on alone, taking maximum KOM points.
Behind, Rosskopf took second-place points and securing his lead in the King of the Mountains classification. He was followed by Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman), who attacked out of the field earlier on the climb.
A final pursuit
Schär wavered on the descent, suffering from what appeared to be leg cramps. By the time he reached the short rolling climbs late in the stage, Rosskopf had his sights set on the Swiss leader. At one point, the gap between the two leaders was as small as 30 seconds.
“There were some points on the downhill where I thought, ‘Okay, now I can stop on the side of the road,’” Schär said. “Then I thought, ‘Okay, it’s done.’ In moments like that it’s just about the mind, you just have to suffer through that.”
However, Schär found his second wind in the final miles and maintained his advantage as Rosskopf was reeled in by the peloton.
With one kilometer remaining, Schär had a 20-second gap over the field with the sprinters’ teams chasing hard. Though SmartStop and UnitedHealthcare made efforts to bring back the BMC rider, Schär gritted his teeth and fought through the final kilometer of false flat to beat the peloton by mere seconds.
“It was the top, the [hardest day of my career], I think,” Schär said.
Kocjan (Smartstop) finished second, two seconds behind Schär. With a time bonus, the Slovenian vaulted into the leader’s yellow jersey.
“I was very motivated for today’s stage. I knew that last year on the same stage 60 riders came to the sprint, so I knew that if I could make the climb with the first group probably I would be the fastest man,” Kocjan said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’ll try tomorrow to defend the yellow jersey.”
Jelly Belly-Maxxis rider Serghei Tvetcov finished third on the stage, and moved into third overall. American Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) is fourth overall, and Tanner Putt, of Park City, Utah, moves from eighth to fifth overall. 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) enters the top 10, in sixth overall, 12 seconds behind Kocjan.