Johann Tschopp of BMC Racing Team rode away from the field in the final five kilometers of the climb to Snowbird to win the queen stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Tschopp also took over the yellow jersey of race leader as Christian Vande Velde suffered in the high altitude. Earlier this week, Brent Bookwalter touted his teammate Tschopp as a rider to watch in these final climbing stages, and today proved Bookwalter right.
Leopold Koenig of the German NetApp team finished second. Up-and-coming climbing talent Joe Dombrowski lost contact with Koenig on the descent just before the final ramp to the finish and crossed the line in third place. Dombrowski’s ride on the inexorable climb to Snowbird also earned him the Subaru Best Young Rider jersey.
“Our team’s been really successful at the U23 level,” said Dombrowski. “It’s really exciting for us to get invited to these big races.” He called it “a big confidence boost” to be able to ride at the front and compete against the more-experienced pro teams.
The Early Action: Jacques-Maynes Wins First KOM
The attacks started almost immediately as the race departed Newpark Town Center, which sits just downslope from Sunday’s start in Park City. Despite numerous efforts, none of the breakaway attempts succeeded.
Over the first Ski Utah KOM line at Jordanelle, Ben Jacques-Maynes of Bissell took maximum points. The Bissell rider started the day within one point of jersey, and over the course of the day, Jacques-Maynes and Timothy Duggan of Liquigas-Cannondale fought a tense battle for the mountains prize.
After a series of splits and regroupings, a break of five riders formed. The break included Jesse Anthony of Optum, Valerio Agnoli of Liquigas-Cannondale, Ben King of Radio Shack-Nissan, Jeff Louder of UnitedHealthcare, and Chris Barton of Bissell. A chase group of fifteen riders tried to blow apart the race, but Garmin-Sharp was having none of it and shut them down.
As the kilometers ticked over, the lead group continued to build house. With 80 kilometers to go, the five-rider group had nearly five minutes in hand. Jesse Anthony of Optum held the highest general classification position in the break and started the day 4:07 behind Vande Velde. Garmin-Sharp kept the break pegged, and never let the group run out the clock.
Alpine Loop: Mancebo Attacks
On the forested Alpine Loop climb, the race began to shift and tilt. As the break wound its way up the twisting road, Barton dropped off the back in part due to some hard riding from Agnoli.
Behind the break, meanwhile, Francesco Mancebo attacked from the field. The 2009 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah winner started the day just over a minute behind Vande Velde and set out in search of a repeat victory. Garmin-Sharp refused to be drawn, and Farrar rode a steady tempo on the front.
Over the top of Alpine Loop, Agnoli took the points in an effort to protect Duggan mountains lead. The descent began with a series of tight corners, and Anthony soon dropped behind the leading threesome.
Mancebo, meanwhile, did a torrid pace on the climb. On the descent the former Spanish national champion caught Anthony. As Anthony and Mancebo closed in on the lead group, the three riders soft-pedaled. There’s strength in numbers, and with still two climbs to the go to the finish, five riders seemed like a better idea than three.
With Mancebo in the break, there was no time to dilly-dally in the main field. As the race approached the Sun Crest climb, the gap began to fall, and a chase group of five set off into no man’s land in pursuit of the break. The chase included mountains rivals Duggan and Jacques-Maynes, Michael Schär of BMC Racing Team, Tom Slagter of Rabobank, and Caleb Fairly of Spidertech.
With 45 kilometers to go, there were three groups on the road: a break of five riders, a chase group of five riders, and the main field containing race leader Vande Velde. The gap between the break and main field stood at 2:55. The chase group rode between them, and steadily gained ground on the lead group.
Still, one climb remained before the final grind up to Snowbird. On the road to Sun Crest, the chase and the break came together. At the summit, Ben Jacques-Maynes beat Duggan to the Ski Utah KOM line and took over as the mountains leader.
As the break made the right turn onto Highland Drive, Fairly crashed heavily. His front wheel looked to sink into the superheated tar like a woolly mammoth stuck in the La Brea tarpits. The crash put an end to Fairly’s hopes for the day and he never made it back to the break.
On the mostly flat road leading to the climb to Snowbird, Garmin-Sharp began to chase in earnest and with 20 kilometers to race, the gap had dropped under two minutes. The break included 2009 race winner Mancebo and BMC Racing Team’s Schär who sat within a minute of race leader Vande Velde.
If Garmin-Sharp wanted to keep their lead in the general classification, now was the time to get down to the business to chasing.
The Finale: The Climb to Snowbird
And then, it was time to climb. As the break hit the lower slopes of the final climb to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Anthony attacked. In search of a repeat victory, Mancebo tried to bridge, but never made much progress. Duggan took up the chase and shattered the break, while behind, Peter Stetina turned the screws for Garmin-Sharp.
As the break shattered, Rabobank’s Slagter went up the road alone with Duggan trailing a few meters behind. Under the pressure of Stetina’s effort, the Vande Velde group suddenly became a very select group indeed.
Looking around, Johann Tschopp decided the moment felt right and attacked. “I had good feelings and good form,” he said after the stage through interpretor Lyne Lamoureux of Podium Insight. He just had that feeling.
Tschopp set off after the break, while up ahead, Slagter still held onto the lead position on the road. Duggan churned away determinedly behind Slagter, but did not put much dent in the Dutch rider’s advantage. It did not matter for long. Tschopp rode straight over the top of both Slagter and Duggan, never to be seen again by his rivals.
In the remains of the main field, Vande Velde dangled off the back, and soon dropped off completely. Danielson said after the stage that he didn’t realize immediately that Vande Velde was struggling, and as Vande Velde went out the back, Garmin-Sharp continued to work on the front of the select group.
Seeing an opportunity in Garmin-Sharp’s troubles, Ian Boswell of Bontrager-Livestrong attacked.
With four kilometers left to race, Tschopp still led, followed by Bowswell. Leipheimer pulled a group including Joe Dombrowski of Bontrager Livestrong and Leopold Koenig of NetApp up to Boswell. Dombrowski immediately countered. Leipheimer to Bontrager-Livestrong: Get off my lawn! Dombrowski and Koenig went up the road, while Leipheimer continued his diesel-powered pace around 20 seconds behind.
Up ahead, Tschopp crossed the line and celebrated his stage victory. The Swiss rider also took over the race lead, the first leader’s jersey of his career. On the downhill run-in to the finish, the lanky Dombrowski lost Koenig’s wheel, and Koenig took second on the stage. Dombrowski finished third. Dombrowski also took over the lead in the Best Young Rider’s classification.
As expected, the mountain stage to Snowbird upended the general classification. Tschopp now leads Vande Velde by 38 seconds. Matthew Busche of Radio Shack-Nissan is third at 43 seconds. Koenig is fourth at 53 seconds, and the Bontrager-Livestrong boys sit fourth and fifth. Dombrowski trails Tschopp by 58 seconds, while Boswell is at 1:03.
Sunday’s Fun Day: More Climbing
Sunday, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah concludes with one more climbing stage that starts and finishes in Park City. It’s a short stage on Sunday at 123.5 kilometers. There are two categorized climbs: the category 2 climb to Wolf Creek Ranch and the lengthy HC grind up Empire Pass. From Empire Pass, the stage descends to finish on Main Street in Park City.
“I hope I have the same good sensations tomorrow,” said new race leader Tschopp. But only 1:30 separates the top ten in the general classification, so it could change one more time before this Tour of Utah comes to an end.