After a hot and hilly race between Ogden and Salt Lake City, Michael “Bling” Matthews of Rabobank won Thursday’s stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The stage followed a similar pattern to Tuesday’s opening stage, and Matthews won from a group of around 60 riders.
Michael Schär (BMC Racing Team) finished second. Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team) who sprinted for third during stage one, finished third again in Salt Lake City. Garmin-Sharp rode a tactically controlled race, and successfully defended Christian Vande Velde’s race lead. Vande Velde’s teammates, Tom Danielson and David Zabriskie, still sit second and third in the overall.
The race rolled out through Ogden’s zig-zag streets and the first climb of the day, North Ogden Divide, came up abruptly. As the main field powered up the climb, groups of riders splintered off the back. Up ahead, Lucas Euser (Spidertech) crossed the summit of the climb first, followed by Ian Boswell (Bontrager-Livestrong) and Mathias Flueckiger (BMC Racing Team).
The day’s breakaway formed on the serpentine descent off the North Ogden Divide. The break included Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing Team), Thomas Rohregger (Radio Shack-Nissan), eventual stage-winner Michael Matthews (Rabobank), Timothy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale), and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare).
Duggan said after the stage that he had not really planned to go in the break, but he was in the right place. “If you’re in position, you have to go for it,” he said after the stage.
Garmin-Sharp was never going to give the break much road to ride, because Tschopp began the stage 58 seconds behind race leader Vande Velde. The break hit the four minute mark on Trapper Loop, the second KOM of the day. Once the race returned to the flat valley roads, Garmin-Sharp began to chase in earnest, and the gap dropped steadily.
As the race climbed up twisty road around the East Canyon Reservoir, the gap to the break held at two minutes. The main field shrank in number as the relentless climbing and hot weather took their toll. Garmin-Sharp kept chipping away at the gap and at the base of the final climb over Big Mountain; the break was within reach at just over a minute up the road.
The road wound up Big Mountain under the shade of aspen and pine trees. Tschopp proved the strongest of the break and rode away from his companions. Duggan put up a solid chase, but never did catch the flying BMC rider. Behind, Matthews and Rohregger began working together, while Colombian Rafael Infantino (EMP-UNE) attacked from the main field in search of mountains glory. Nathan Haas and Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp), meanwhile, drifted back through the cars, their job done for the day.
Over the top of the final climb of the day, Tschopp rode a minute ahead of Infantino and Duggan. Thanks to his efforts in the break, Duggan secured the King of the Mountains jersey. Behind the lead three, the field still led by Garmin-Sharp trailed at 1:35.
For the next ten kilometers, Tschopp rode solo off the front in a valiant, but doomed effort to stay away. At the end of the day, he took home the prize for most aggressive rider. His position in the general classification insured that Garmin-Sharp would keep him under custody.
Inside ten kilometers to go, it was all back together. Garmin-Sharp had played their cards perfectly. “They let the leash out a little, but they timed it perfectly,” said Duggan after the stage. With the finish line fast approaching, Liquigas-Cannondale went to the front in the hope of setting up Damiano Caruso for the sprint. Then, BMC Racing Team took over.
Matthews, who spent the day in the break, followed Rory Sutherland, who started his sprint early in the hope of repeating his stage 1 victory. “I had to go around the long way,” said Matthews of his sprint. The Rabobank rider, who won the U23 World Championship in 2010, won the sprint and took over the lead in the points classification. Behind him, BMC crowded the podium with Schär finishing second and Bookwalter third.
Three riders were disqualified from the race on Thursday. Matt Brammeier (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Jonas Ahlstrand (Team Argos-Shimano), and Tom Slagter (Rabobank) were all kicked out of the race by the commissaries. According to the race organizers, the commissaires ruling resulted from the riders hanging on to the cars. Brammeier and Ahlstrand were dropped early on the first climb of the day.
Friday’s stage runs 216 kilometers from the Xango HQ in Lehi to Salt Lake City. The race follows a lollipop-shaped course and heads out to the flatlands of Rush Valley for a quick tour. Then, the course back-tracks and heads north over mostly flat terrain. There are no categorized climbs on the course profile and it should be a day for the sprinters.