In front of the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Jacob Keogh of UnitedHealthcare sprinted to win today’s stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. From the start of the six day tour, everyone predicted that Friday’s long, flat stage would end in a sprint, however the breakaway nearly spoiled the sprinters’ plans and the field only came back together inside the final kilometer for a rocket fast finish.
Marco Benfatto (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished second, and Tyler Farrar (Garmin- Sharp) took third. Christian Vande Velde finished safely in the field to retain the race lead ahead of tomorrow’s difficult mountain stage to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
“It was a real team effort,” said Keogh after the stage. “They worked from start to finish.” UniversalHealthcare threw their full team into the effort of winning the stage. Even road captain and Best Utah Rider Jeff Louder contributed to the effort. Louder called the close call with the breakaway in the final kilometer “nip and tuck.”
Six riders established a break early in the stage. Friday’s escape included: Yann Huguet (Argos-Shimano), Thomas Leezer (Rabobank), Craig Lewis (Champion System), Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager-Livestrong), Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), and Jeremy Vennell (Team Bissell). For ten kilometers, the break put their chins on the bars and rode hard to establish a solid gap over the field.
Behind them, UniversalHealthcare and Competitive Cyclist committed to the chase early on. With hopes of setting up Freddy Rodriguez for the sprint, Team Exergy also threw their legs into the effort of keeping the break in check. As the team of the general classification leader, Garmin-Sharp also did their share. Despite the combined efforts of the chase, the break achieved a maximum advantage of just over 11 minutes.
Soon the gap began to fall. Inside 40 kilometers to race, the break retained less than two minutes of their advantage. The break had collaborated smoothly throughout the day, and with 30 kilometers left in the stage, they decided to put in a big effort in the hope of staying away to the finish. “With 30 kilometers to go, we went full gas,” said Stuyven, who finished second in the 2011 U23 Paris-Roubaix and recently won a stage at the Cascade Classic.
Inside ten kilometers to race, the stubborn group of six continued to hold off the chase, and increasingly, it looked like they just might make it. At six kilometers to go, the
group still held a minute gap and it was anxious days for the sprinters. At three kilometers to go, the gap dropped by half.
Just outside the final kilometer, sliver of daylight still gleamed between the break and the ravenous field of sprinters. The catch came at the one kilometer to go mark. “It was a long one. We didn’t realize it was so close, because we talked to each other, and I hit it, and they were right there,” said Vennell after the stage. “It was really gut-wrenching. We were working really well together and everyone was working 100 percent. It was a bit disappointing for everyone in the break.”
Into the finishing straight, Liquigas-Cannondale, UnitedHealthcare, and Team Exergy battled for position. In the final meters, Jacob Keogh sprinted clear to take the victory. Behind him, a UnitedHealthcare rider raised his arms in celebration as Keogh crossed the line. Benfatto finished second, followed by Farrar of Garmin-Sharp.
Saturday begins the climbing, and the race heads for the mountains for a summit finish at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. The sprinters have had their fun. Saturday, the race for the general classification is on. By the day, it could well be a whole different bike race.