Sutherland Surprises with a Sprint to Win Stage One in Utah
By Jen See
Under the withering desert sun in Ogden, Utah, Rory Sutherland of United Healthcare took the stage one victory at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The Australian and United Healthcare all-arounder won with an uncharacteristic long sprint from a 40-man lead group.
Scalding temperatures pushed the mercury skyward like an uncapped oil well, and the stage’s succession of climbs whittled down the field in the 131.7 mile opening stage. Before the stage, the consensus among the sprinters was that the course was too difficult to finish in a bunch sprint. They were proved right as the leading 40 riders finished with an already significant time gap over the rest of the field.
The sprinter’s absence worked to the advantage of Sutherland, who started his sprint from about 250 meters out. Few saw it coming and those that did couldn’t come around him. It marked his first major victory since winning the Tour of the Gila earlier this season.
As the race rolled out from Ogden, the expected breakaway broke the hold of the field early in the stage, and soon four riders were well and clear. The break included Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Caleb Fairly (SpiderTech), David Williams (Competitive Cyclist), and Eduard Beltran (EPM-UNE). William Clarke (Champion Systems) later bridged to the group, making it five.
Behind the break, the race turned into a game of stare down between Garmin-Sharp and Radio Shack-Nissan. With the top teams daring one another not to chase, the gap to the break ballooned to over 11 minutes. It was a familiar pattern; the same two teams played much the same game on the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California with similar results. Eventually, Garmin-Sharp went to the front and began to whittle away at the break’s massive advantage.
Up ahead, Jacques-Maynes scooped up the mountain points, but by the final climb up the North Ogden Divide, the break’s days were clearly numbered. The combined efforts of Garmin-Sharp and RadioShack had their effect. BMC Racing Team also contributed to the chase in hopes of setting up one of their riders for a late attack closer to the finish. The gap dropped under the magic minute mark, and the field caught the break in sight of the summit of North Ogden Divide.
A flurry of counterattacks went off as the race began the long, fast descent to the finish. “It was pretty chaotic,” noted Bookwalter, whose BMC team did not bring a designated leader to this year’s Tour of Utah. “We can all play our cards,” he said.
Despite the constant attacks from the field, no one could make that decisive race-winning move. An attack inside 10 kilometers from Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) looked promising, but soon it was all back together and the fight for the final corner began.
When Sutherland went through that crucial final corner in around third or fourth wheel, it was Bookwalter who appeared to be the best challenger, but the BMC rider slotted in too far back. Sutherland’s early jump from the 250 meter mark was timed perfectly. “You come around the last corner and get some goose bumps going, and just go for it,” said Sutherland of his sprint finish. Sutherland also credited his time in recent crits for his furious turn of speed in Ogden. Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) crossed the line second, while Bookwalter was third.
On Wednesday, the race heads to the Miller Motorsports Park for a 21.7 kilometer team time trial. “It’s almost a different sport,” said Bookwalter of the team time trial. “It’s pretty rare to have a team time trial, especially in the U.S.”
Overnight race leader Rory Sutherland said he did not expect to defend his race lead in the challenging discipline. According to Sutherland, United Healthcare is chasing stage wins this week rather than an overall victory. Rather than finishing in the top ten in the overall like he did at the Amgen Tour of California, Sutherland came to the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah for stage glory and that decision certainly paid off in Ogden on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s team time trial runs over a twisting, mostly flat course. Garmin-Sharp and Radio Shack-Nissan are the favorites. Radio Shack-Nissan’s Chris Horner expects the gaps to be relatively small among the top teams by the end of the day. “The team time trial could cause an early split,” he said. “But there are lots of time bonuses out on the course.”
Between the time bonuses and the weekend’s massive mountain stages, there’s plenty of road to play, even for the teams who may find Wednesday’s team time trial a difficult trick.