With 13,000 feet of climbing on tap, stage 6 of the Larry H. Miller was billed as the queen stage of the event. It did not disappoint.
2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) won the stage, but the list of winners was long, and varied.
American Joey Rosskopf put on a career-making performance, riding into the daylong breakaway, making the final selection on the climb to Snowbird Mountain Resort, chasing down a dangerous late-race attack, and then momentarily gapping off Evans in the final kilometer before ultimately finishing second to the Australian.
If the 24-year-old Rosskopf — who rides for Hincapie Sportswear and won the Redlands Cycling Classic in March — does not already have a pro contract for 2015, he most certainly will after his ride in Utah Saturday.
And though he did not win the stage, Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson may actually have been the day’s biggest winner. The race leader heading into the stage, Danielson kept his cool under extreme duress, chasing down a late attack by Belkin’s Wilco Kelderman, defending his lead, and all but assuring himself a second consecutive Utah GC victory.
Early on in the stage, BMC stacked a 15-rider breakaway with four riders, including Evans, at one point opening a gap of almost five minutes, putting Evans, who started the day 2:43 down on Danielson, into the virtual race lead.
With his teammate Janier Acevedo sitting on in the break, Danielson put the rest of his teammates on the front and had them methodically keep the break in check, bringing the gap down to three minutes at the bottom of the seven-mile climb to Snowbird.
Riding with occasional help from Lampre’s Chris Horner and Winner Anacona, Danielson reeled back almost all of the time difference to the breakaway on the final climb, finishing just 14 seconds behind Evans.
Given the numbers in the break, given Acevedo’s momentary problem with a musette bag stuck in his rear wheel in the feed zone, and given Danielson’s untimely bike change on the descent of the penultimate climb, Guardsman Pass, the day ultimately belonged to Danielson and his teammates.
Danielson did not attend the post-race press conference, however after the stage he took to Twitter, posting, “Incredible ride by my @Ride_Argyle teammates today. We made a plan and executed it no matter what was thrown at us. #worldclass”
Evans bridges across a gap as BMC stacks the breakaway
With 107 miles, four summits and 13,000 feet of elevation gain ahead — as well as five days of hard racing already in the legs — Saturday’s stage was going to hurt the peloton, no matter how the race tactics unfolded.
That didn’t stop perennial breakaway specialist Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) from attacking as soon as the peloton left the neutral roll out in Salt Lake City.
Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) followed suit, and the two riders quickly opened a 15-second gap over the peloton on Little Mountain, the first of four categorized climbs, just eight miles into the stage.
Perhaps looking for KOM points, Voigt dropped Euser and headed up the climb alone.
Behind, however, a large, powerful breakaway formed. In the move: Rosskopf; Acevedo, Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare); Travis McCabe (SmartStop); Michal Schär, Yannick Eijssen, and Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing); Riccardo Zoidl (Trek Factory Racing); Martijn Keizer (Belkin); Luis Davila (Jelly Belly); Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman); and James Oram and Ruben Zepuntke (Bissell).
In between Little Mountain and the next climb, Big Mountain, Euser was swept up, and not long after the day’s first intermediate sprint in East Canyon, at mile 22, Evans put in a monster effort over the top of the climb to bridge across, alone, giving BMC four riders in the 15-man move. At mile 25, the chase group was 2:20 behind Voigt, and 1:10 ahead of the Garmin-led peloton.
By mile 30, the 15-man breakaway caught Voigt, adding even more horsepower. Along with his teammates, a motivated Evans took several strong pulls at the front, and by mile 40, the gap was well over three minutes. At mile 45, it was nearly four minutes, and Evans was the virtual race leader.
Behind, Garmin riders Thomas Dekker, Gavin Mannion, Alex Howes, and Ben King traded pulls, while Danielson preserved Phil Gaimon for the final climbs.
In the feed zone, Garmin had a scare when Acevedo, who lost time on stage 4 and was not a GC threat, had a musette bag caught in his rear wheel in the feed zone, and looked to be dropped from the breakaway.
With a bit of help from his team car, the Colombian climber was able to make it back to the front group.
As the leaders hit the bottom slopes of Guardsman Pass — a 7.4-mile climb averaging almost 7 percent, with total elevation gain of 2,627 feet — the gap had stretched to 4:45, and it seemed possible that Garmin had lost the GC battle.
However, several riders quickly dropped from the breakaway, including Reijnen and Zepuntke; by the top of the climb, all of Evans’ teammates had peeled off, and the group was down to Rosskopf, Evans, Euser, and Zoidl. Acevedo was dropped, and fell back to the peloton to work for Danielson.
Danielson had a momentary scare on the descent of Guardsman, with 22 miles to go, when a mechanical problem required a bike change.
With 25km to go, the four leaders held a 3:15 gap.
Showdown on Snowbird
As the four leaders approached the Snowbird climb, the first signs of dissent became apparent when Euser, and then Evans, had words with Zoidl, the Austrian national champion, for his lack of contribution to the effort. Evans could also be seen having words with the Trek Factory Racing director in the follow car.
“I said to him, ‘If we want to have a chance, we have to cooperate,’” Evans said. “If we don’t cooperate with 20K to go, we’re going to be equally tired at the end, and we’re going to be racing against each other equally, and if someone sits on all day, the other three aren’t going to be very happy with them.’”
With 10km to go, and Acevedo and Gaimon pulling in front of Danielson, the break was down to 2:50. Evans was still in the virtual race lead, but only by seven seconds, and the gap was dropping.
While Danielson and Evans battled for the race lead, there were, of course, others to contend with. Behind Danielson rode Lampre teammates Chris Horner, who started the day second overall, 57 seconds down, and Winner Anacona, who started the day fourth overall, 1:47 down. Also in that select group sat Kelderman, who started the day fifth overall, 2:07 down, and Rob Britton (SmartStop), who started the day 13th overall, 3:57 down.
Kelderman was the first to attack the yellow jersey group, drawing out Anacona and Britton. The Belkin rider was able to ride away from both men, but Danielson brought back the Dutchman, with Horner on his wheel.
The accelerated pace quickly brought down the gap to the Evans group, to under two minutes.
Anacona was next to attack, but again Danielson closed it down, reinforcing what he’d shown with his stage 4 win on Powder Mountain — he is the strongest climber at this Tour of Utah.
Up front, Rosskopf lifted the pace, dropping Euser, though the UnitedHealthcare rider would claw his way back to the three leaders.
With 3km to go, only 35 seconds separated two groups of four riders — at the front were Evans, Rosskopf, Zoidl and Euser, while further back were Danielson, Horner, Anacona, and Kelderman.
Euser attacked the lead group with 2.2km to go, and Evans and Rosskopf did not react, forcing Zoidl to respond. The Trek rider reeled in Euser’s move and then countered. Rosskopf chased that attack, dropping Euser again.
“I’ve never climbed this well in my life, so it’s just a cool experience,” Rosskopf said. “And I was really doubting myself. I was so scared of Guardsman. We stayed in Park City this year, and last year before the race started, and I avoided going up Guardsman at all costs.”
Rosskopf’s power put Zoidl on the back foot, and momentarily gapped off Evans, but as the profile peaked out inside the final kilometer, and then descended to the finish line, Evans was able to get back on Rosskopf’s wheel and pass him in the final 300 meters, winning the stage by just two seconds.
“For the team, it was pre-meditated plan that we had,” Evans said. “Easy to make, but hard to execute. But the guys were very good. Mickey [Michael Schär], Danilo Wyss, and Yannick Eijssen made it up into the move and then it was up to me to get away. Easier said than done. I was surprised we could get such a good gap at the bottom of Guardsman Pass, thanks to the work of the three guys. It was even more than I hoped we’d have. Still not enough to make significant moves on GC, but it put us in good position to play with the stage, and put Garmin under pressure for the interests of [BMC's] Ben Hermans.”
Zoidl finished third, six seconds down, in the same time as Kelderman. Horner and Danielson crossed fifth and sixth, 13 seconds down, with Anacona seventh, 18 seconds back.
Heading into stage 7, which starts and finishes in Park City and delivers two categorized climbs — the final climb up Empire Pass has an average gradient of 10 percent, and sections that exceed 20 percent — Danielson leads Horner by 56 seconds, with BMC’s Hermans in third, 1:26 down.
Evans had won the stage, and moved from ninth overall to sixth, but Danielson had preserved his race lead, and Rosskopf had shown his abilities on an international stage — three men, three varying degrees of success.