In a show of force and humor, U23 Road Champion Alex Howes of the Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin team, the U23 development arm of the Slipstream organization, grabbed a hot dog and attacked the dwindling break at the bottom of the final brutal climb up to Snowbird and soloed away for the win at the Queen stage of the Larry H Miller Tour of Utah.
“I was pretty surprised at the way everyone was riding when we hit the hill, there was a lot of talent in that front group. To just ride away like I did, I was floored.” said Howes who used an unusual tactic to energize his attack. “I took a bite of a hot dog and jumped them.”
The 21-year old held off local favorite and ace climber Burke Swindlehurst (BISSELL) to claim his first NRC victory on the 155 km (96 mi) stage from Park City to Snowbird. Howes also won the King of the Mountain jersey as there are no more points to be won in that competition.
“He did an amazing ride, I have to be happy with it, I gave it everything I had to today so I can’t be too disappointed I suppose.” said Swindlehurst.
Both Swindlehurst and Howes were part of a nine-rider break that went off early in the stage.
“Honestly, I really didn’t want to be in the break today because JV said he’d make me catch it if I lost the Best Young Rider jersey, so I didn’t want to lose that but I knew where the break was going to go.” said Howes.
“I’ve never had teammates ride that hard for me, it was very motivating, more than anything I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to come through for them.” said Swindlehurst who had two teammates in the break. “These guys were killing themselves for me.”
Yellow jersey Francisco Mancebo surged up from the disintegrating field to take third on the stage and, unless disaster strikes in the criterium, won the overall in Utah. Mancebo now holds a lead of forty-six seconds on Darren Lill (Team Type 1) and one minute and twenty-nine seconds on defending champion Jeff Louder (BMC). Howes jumped up to fourth spot at one minute and fifty-four seconds down and Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) moved up to fifth at two minutes and three seconds.
Old school fury. The BISSELL team put it all on the line in the decisive stage, stacking the break with three powerhouse riders, Jeremy Vennell, Ben Jacques-Maynes and Swindlehurst.
“We talked about it, the ideal scenario would be for me to get into a break with two other guys from the team and just drive it and see what happens because the race has been disappointing for me to be honest, I haven’t had the greatest legs this week and so I really wanted to do something big rather than sit in the field and drag race up the bottom of Snowbird.” said Swindlehurst.
“I wanted to go for the break, Jeremy was real keyed up for the break and just over the crest of that first climb out of town, Burke comes across and that’s about as good as it gets right there, it was full gas.” said Jacques-Maynes.
The trio was part of the nine-rider break that went off on one of the rollers by the Jordanelle reservoir. The break also included Dan Bowman (Kelly Benefit), Ian MacGregor (Team Type 1), Ben King (Fly V Australia), Andy Guptill (Colavita/Sutter Home), Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) and Howes. The worked worked well together, with everyone rotating except for Chadwick who by virtue of having the yellow jersey in his team, was sitting on at the back.
“At first, I was kind of apprehensive about it, thinking about maybe dropping back because the last thing I wanted to do was race in the break all day and get caught at the bottom of the climb and watch Bjorn ride away from me, but with three BISSELL guys in there, and Chadwick was in there, Rock was willing to give it a little more slack.” said Howes about the break. “Once we had nine minutes, I was fairly confident we could hold the Best Young Rider jersey.”
The other GC contenders sat in the field behind Rock Racing, thinking like most that the break would never make it to the finish line, but by the bottom of the first climb, Alpine Loop, the break had over nine minutes to the field. A trio of chasers, Ryan Baumann (Trek Livestrong) and Nic Hamilton and Kevin Noiles both of Trek Red Truck would dangle in no mans land only to be caught in the second climb of the day.
“It was a good group out there, when I heard over eight minutes, we had a chance to dream, this might work.” said Jacques-Maynes.
“I was quite surprised that they let it run that far. I think what they wanted was that the gap would be big enough that no one would jump across on the first climb up Sundance, I think they didn’t want people to try and attack across to the break.” said Lill.
The first climb, the HC slog up beautiful Alpine Loop brought the BISSELL boys back to the front, drilling it making sure that not too much time was lost to the field. His teammate Vennell pulled the pin on the climb after working hard on the flats.
“I spent everything I had riding up that first climb, I rode about half of it on the front, just to make sure, I know that they were going to be going quick in the group behind, and so that we wouldn’t give up too much time on that. I figured if we crested by five minutes then that would have been a good climb for us considering we were dangling out there all the way there.” said Jacques-Maynes.
Swindlehurst had an extra adrenaline shot on the descent when he had a slow leak flat, after a quick wheel change by neutral support Shimano, he flew down the descent to catch up with the break in two miles.
“Luckily it didn’t go immediately because we were going very fast and I had time to address it and get a neutral wheel from Shimano and do a chase to get back on. You can a little bit of an adrenaline burst when that happens, there wasn’t a caravan to chase back through and I knew it was go time.” said Swindlehurst.
Meanwhile back in the field, the BMC team was at the front to bring down the gap, with Ian McKissick taking monster pulls, spitting guys out the back and whittling the field down to around twenty riders by the top of the climb, past Sundance. The field hit the descent hard with guys crashing out and forming groups on the road. The first group included Lill and his teammate Chris Jones, Louder and his teammate Brent Bookwalter, Floyd Landis and Pat McCarty of OUCH-Maxxis, David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream of DZ Nuts or…) and an isolated yellow jersey Mancebo. The second group chasing hard included Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing) and Chris Baldwin (OUCH) who had both crashed during the descent and the remainder of the whittled down field.
By the bottom of the descent, the gap from the break to the lead group was just over three minutes.
What ifs? Seeing Mancebo isolated, Zabriskie, Bookwalter, Jones and Landis drilled it, putting time on the chasing group of up to one minute by the bottom of the descent when a missed turn brought a lot of what ifs.
Coming into a roundabout under construction, the yellow jersey group missed a turn and went off course.
“A race referee came by us, kept going straight, just before this turn that we were apparently supposed to take, but the referee came by us on the bike and just went straight so everyone followed him, and we were supposed to have taken a right.” said Lill.
Louder noticed and brought the riders back on course. “We ended up coming back to a roundabout with construction, we went through a gas station, rode up on the pavements and goodness knows what to come back.” said Lill.
But by that time, the field had caught up and once again Mancebo had teammates to ride tempo until the bottom of the last climb up to Snowbird.
What if the turn had not been missed? What if Mancebo has been isolated for the next smaller climb? We will never know if that missed turn would have changed the outcome. Bummer that.
The break and the field rode each rode tempo up the Traverse Ridge climb getting ready for the monster that was coming up, the climb up Little Cottonwood Road up to Snowbird.
Mano a mano. The break had started to crumble by bottom of the 7-mile climb to Snowbird.
“You could see that guys were hurting, the pace was on, Burke did a little dig just to see who was paying attention, I countered at the bottom of the climb which was the worst idea I ever had and just had to ride my own pace, I was going as fast as I could, which wasn’t that fast, until they caught, it was already split up at that point.” said Jacques-Maynes who attacked first on the climb to set up his teammate Swindlehurst.
Once Jacques-Maynes cracked, Howes grabbed a spectator’s hot dog, took a bite and attacked. Swindlehurst, Bowman and Chadwick with King yo-yoing started to chase,
“I thought maybe Chadwick would have a little bit more in the tank because he was sitting on all day and he’s done well in the past so I thought all right I’ve earned the right to sit on it because he’s done it for the past 85miles so I’ll see if he can get me close to Howes.” said Swindlehurst.
Then Swindlehurst had to chase solo as the Rock Racing DS told Chadwick to sit up and wait for Mancebo who was charging up the hill. The two riders continued to climb up the hill, with the veteran chasing the upstart up the climb in front of a loud and appreciative crowd.
“I’m pretty sure I cracked fifteen seconds after I attacked, I never felt good on that hill, to come out of a breakaway like that, nobody feels good, I was just praying that I wasn’t going to cramp.” said Howes.
Finally, only at “two hundred meters to go”, did Howes believe he would win the stage.
“Sticking it out all the way, I know how good Burke is riding right now, for him to match and beat Burke, that’s a great ride.” said Jacques-Maynes
The field splintered into groups of ones and twos as soon at the gradient hit ten percent and then it was every man for himself. No hiding, no silly tactics.
Lill attacked but Mancebo countered and passed him on his way up the climb. Lill continued to climb with Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin), Zajicek and Louder up the climb. Lill attacked once again to try and chase down Mancebo and finished fourth on the stage followed in by Chadwick, Zajicek, Louder, Stetina and McCarty.
What’s next? Barring mishaps, the race for the yellow and best young rider jersey is over, but there is still the stage victory and the Sprints jersey on the line. The fifth and final stage is the 90-minute Salt Lake Downtown Criterium starting at 2pm.
Full results here
Photos (Click for larger images)
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