Team Type 1′s Darren Lill took the matter into his own hands at the bottom of the tough 30 km climb and flew away from a select lead group of 9 riders to take the win atop of Mt Nebo at stage 2 of the Larry H Miller Tour of Utah. Lill quickly established and held a gap of around 30 seconds to take the win solo on his 27th birthday.
“To be able to win solo is always rewarding especially after such a long effort, I just give thank to God for helping me.” said Lill.
Defending champion Jeff Louder (BMC) was not surprised to see Lill go so early. “He’s like a caged beast, you can’t really hold him in, that’s his MO, he can do obviously. It wasn’t surprising, I was hoping he would die up here on the false flats. He’s motivated, he’s riding really well, Utah is his adopted American home. Congratulations to him, it was a great ride.”
Even though he was dropped a few times on the climb, Rock Racing’s Francisco Mancebo always managed to rejoin the group and covered the final attack from Louder and then counter-attacked the defending champion to take second on the stage. Mancebo is still in the yellow leader’s jersey, Lill moved up to second on GC at 35 seconds down. With his third place finish, Louder is now third on GC, at 40 seconds from the leader.
Everyone said that the Mt Nebo climb was tough and boy were they right. “It’s a really long climb, it’s got a lot of elements, it’s steep in some places, shallow, some descents and then the altitude, eventually you go over 9000 feet. It’s quite an interesting climb.” said BISSELL’s Burke Swindlehurst who finished tenth on the stage.
Like a textbook, well almost. With a profile offering a flat 90 km course followed by the tough 30 km climb to the top of Mt Nebo, the assumption was that an early break would go, would get caught on the climb by the group of contenders who would duel it out to the finish. Well that’s almost what happened except that Lill was following a somewhat different textbook as he risked it all by launching a blistering attack at the bottom of the climb with only Rock Racing’s Oscar Sevilla covering his move.
“I looked at the course last week and the bottom part of the climb is definitely the hardest, it doesn’t have flatter recovery like the top piece and I knew that the bottom piece suited me better than the top piece. The bigger guys have a chance to recover on the flats and things and so I decided to go earlier. It was a bit risky, you always stand the risk of blowing up, it’s difficult to judge your efforts over such a long climb but I just prayed that God would help and He did so it was good.” said Lill.
Under the impetus of the OUCH-Maxxis team, the field had splintered to make the selection off the front of the race at the start of the climb. The lead group included Mancebo and Sevilla, Lill, Louder, Swindlehurst, the OUCH-Maxxis duo of Chris Baldwin and Pat McCarty, Anthony Colby (Colavita/Sutter Home), Matt Busche (Kelly Benefit), David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) and Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia).
“At the bottom, OUCH took control and were doing a good solid tempo, like the kind you think there was maybe 5 kilometers of racing left. That was pretty interesting that they would be riding that hard into essentially an hour and twenty minute climb, that’s how long it takes to go up it.” said Swindlehurst.
After Sevilla dropped back to assist his teammate, Lill continued solo, putting time on the chasing group to get gap of over one minute at some point. The Rock Racing duo assumed the chase while also controlling the attacks, but for the first time, the pair showed some weaknesses as both Sevilla and Mancebo fell back and clawed their way back up to the group multiple times.
“We were trying to put some pressure on them, but the Rock guys are really experienced, even though you could tell they were really struggling, they’ve just got so much experience, they got so much kind of over the top power so you get a gap on them and then they just wind it up and getting all back on the little false flats and descents.” said Louder.
They weren’t the only ones struggling as Zabriskie dropped back to the third big group on the road and Zajicek, Swindlehurst, Badlwin were yo-yoing.
“I was see sawing all day, I was fighting hamstring cramps and all kind of cramps.” said Swindlehurst. “I think I rejoined contact seven or eight times today, I’d get the cramps under control and somebody would accelerate and they would come back.”
While Lill was motoring up solo, Louder and the OUCH riders put in attacks but the Rock Racing riders “had some allies because everyone that was there was looking for the overall, they don’t want to let things go either, so they go a few assists.” said Louder.
The climb offered up one final kicker with 2 kilometers to go. “I knew that there was one more climb really and I hit them about half way up it and I had a good gap just right over the top, Mancebo rode by himself across to me, with guys on his wheel, and then he hit me again and just kept on going. I was pretty gassed from attacking before and then, it was just he was going after Lill and I was going after him, everybody was cross-eyed at that point – well I assumed because I know I was.” said Louder.
Lill crossed the finish line with a 22 seconds advantage over Mancebo and grabbed the 10 second time bonus to move up to second place on GC. Louder came in a further 4 seconds back leading McCarty, Busche and Colby in.
The early break. After an extended neutral start due to road construction, the attacks started immediately to launch the early break. With a tailwind at their back, the field was going 45 miles/hour on the long flat roads until the first feedzone at mile marker 21. Immediately after, the right combination was found, and 8 riders went off the front. Fly V Australia duo of Ben Day and Ben King, Will Duggan (Team Type 1), Jonathan Garcia (BMC), Frank Pipp (BISSELL), Bobby Sweeting (Land Rover-ORBEA), Taylor Sheldon (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) and Jared Gilyard (Ride Clean) rode well together to grow the gap to three minutes and thirty seconds at the bottom of the dreaded Mt Nebo climb.
As soon as the road went up, the break splintered with riders falling back, starting with Sheldon and Sweeting, then it was Duggan, Gilyard, Pipp and finally King dropped leaving only Day and Garcia to continue on. But the final two riders were reeled in by the charging lead group.
Another battle is shaping up. Only two seconds divide USA U23 Road (and Crit) Champion Alex Howes (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) and Bjorn Selander (Trek-Livestrong) in the Best Young Rider competition.
Howes originally made it into the select lead group but the effort put in in the prior stages took its toll. “I was the last guy to tack on to the front group but I just wasn’t feeling it today. I raced yesterday pretty hard, I was aggressive early on in the stage and that definitely came back to bite me a little bit but I’m okay with that.”
The highest finisher for his team today, Howes was in the second group at two minutes and thirty-six seconds from the winner and grabbed hold of the blue jersey.
“For the team, it was kind of a bad day. Stetina had bad legs, bad stomach, bad back, bad everything so that kind of hurt morale. Kirk has trouble with altitude, I wasn’t feeling very great, I was cramping up, I had issues with that but we’re in a good team, and if we just keep on fighting, we’ll be able to pull something together, we’re pretty happy with the Best Young Rider jersey right now but it will be tough to defend.”
But Howes is not giving up. “I only have two seconds on Bjorn, he was second at Nationals, he is time trialing really well right now, he’s really strong so realistically I’ll lose it tomorrow but I’m okay with that, there’s a lot of climbing left to go, I think I can potentially win it at the end.” finished Howes.
Other jerseys. Lill was awarded the KOM jersey during the podium presentation but the results sent out afterwards list Mancebo as the leader that competition with one point over Lill. Mancebo kept the green points jersey with 10 points, 2 more than his teammate Sevilla. Louder also picked up the Best Utah Rider jersey.
What’s next? Well the battle – or battles – are certainly not over. Friday is the 14.5 km (9.2 mi) time trial held at the Miller Motorsports Park.The course meanders through the Park with some narrower sections and tight turns, some interesting out and backs and the wide banked turns on the track itself.
“It’s a pretty complicated course, it’s definitely going to be one that’s going to be beneficial to the riders that can ride it and get to know it well.” said Louder last week.
Last year, BISSELL’s Tom Zirbel put in the fastest time with Bookwalter 9 seconds down and Louder in third at 15 seconds, but, there was no Zabriskie at the race. This is the first since the US Pro TT Nationals where Zabriskie beat Zirbel by 5 second that the two Z-men will go head to head in their specialty. It all starts at 6:30pm where the riders will be off at 30 second interval until the last 10 who will leave the start ramp at one minute intervals.
Complete results here.
Photo Gallery (click for larger images)
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