What a crit! Expectations were high for the Park City Criterium, words like smashfest, bloodbath were used and riders were nervous as they started to stage 20 minutes before the start of stage 4 of the Larry H Miller Tour of Utah. You could see it in their faces as they looked up Main Street from the start line, in their fidgeting legs, the onslaught was about to begin. And boy, the boisterous, noisy, fabulous crowd was not disappointed. It was carnage out there with riders shelled immediately from the start of the 75-minute criterium. What made it so hard? How about a 12% kicker on the 1-mile lap, followed by a quick descent into 6 turns back up to Main Street to do it again. All at over 7000 feet, after days of hard racing. So hard, that 33 riders were pulled or abandoned during the race.
What a ride! Halfway through the race, with the decimated main group down to around 60 riders, Jeff Louder of the BMC Racing Team took a flyer and quickly got some distance from the rest of the riders. He increased his gap lap after lap to almost a minute with 8 laps to go. The Utah-native was buoyed by a wall of sound every time he came through the start/finish line, deafening cheers of “Jeff, Jeff” could be heard all around the course. Riding like two men, Louder soloed to victory, with plenty of time to savor his win as he came up to the finish line for the final time.
“I just wanted to say that I really had my thoughts the whole day to Terry McGinnis, one of my best friends, he trained with me for years. Terry would always go out and ride with me not matter what weather, any conditions, once I was out there and I felt I had a chance, I really felt like I had him with me and it meant a lot just to think of Terry today.” said Louder afterwards. Terry McGinnis, executive director of the Tour of Utah, passed away late last year.
Twenty-two seconds later Jai Crawford (Fly V Australia) won the 2-up sprint to take second ahead of Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles). The stage brought no significant changes to the GC with Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) still in yellow, with 1:28 on Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) and 1:49 on Darren Lill (Fly V Australia).
Kaboom. Alex Dowsett (Trek-LIVESTRONG) open the hostilities on the second time up the climb. While he didn’t stay away long, it signaled the start of non-stop attacks which detonated the field. His teammate David Phinney made the next move with Mancebo and Pat McCarty (Team Rio Grande) jumping on but that was quickly brought back by the GC contenders. Davide Frattini (Team Type 1) took a solo flyer for four laps before Lachlan Morton (Holowesko Partners) and Phinney bridged up to him, but that move died soon after.
For Lill and his teammates Phil Zajicek and Crawford, it was all about trying to force a selection, but everything was reeled back quickly.
“I was marked immediately by Mancebo and Levi so it wasn’t going to be easy to get away. Also the headwind up the climb nullified things a lot.” said Lill. “In the end, guys like Jeff and my teammate Jai capitalized on the fact that they were just off the radar and they were able to get away. Gave it our best shot and I think they’re going to be a lot of tired legs tomorrow.”
Lill was also fighting stomach problems. “I was struggling with stomach cramps today, I don’t know if its something I ate last night, I’m still feeling it at the moment.”
With no teammates, Leipheimer followed a simple strategy. “I don’t do a lot of criteriums, I wanted to stay at the front the whole time, stay out of trouble. I decided to follow Mancebo and Darren Lill for example, they were both very aggressive, I had to jump after them a couple of times, not really my forte to jump like that, but fortunately it turned out alright.”
Louder flies. “Those guys were all hitting each other, kind of checking each other. When I saw Phinney get a pretty good gap pretty easy, I thought to myself I don’t think they’re going to worry about me and I don’t want to be the guy caught flat footed when somebody else gets a good gap and no one chases.”
He took off with a chase group forming behind him. Phinney, Alex Hagman (On the Rivet), David Tanner (Fly V Australia) and Jeremy Vennell (BISSELL) got together but, never able to catch Louder, they were finally re-absorbed by the field.
Louder just kept on riding strongly, dodging and lapping riders, to the pleasure of the crowd. “I have to really thank the fans today, that was insane, that was the biggest wall of sound I’ve ever…that’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever won in front of for sure. It was just amazing how many people were cheering for me. Without the crowd today I don’t know how I would have done it, it softened the hill a bit. It was still obviously a really hard course, I couldn’t believe how many people I rode through.”
In the bag with five to go and a gap hovering around the minute mark. “[BMC Directeur Sportif] Mike Sayers was freaking out after I was away from about a lap, he was really motivating me the whole way. When I had about five laps to go, and I still had a minute, I knew that unless they were really saving something big in the end, unless they really were saving something big as long as I could hold my pace I had a pretty good chance.”
With two laps to go, Crawford jumped from the field to chase the podium spot but had to fight off Mancebo in a final 2-man sprint.
No changes to the jerseys, Leipheimer remains in yellow. Ian Boswell (BISSELL) keeps his blue Powerade/vitaminwater Best Young Rider jersey, Lill keeps the red Siegfried & Jensen Best Utah Rider jersey, Mancebo the polka dot Utah Toyota Dealers King of the Mountains. The battle for points just got tighter but Tanner stays in the orange XO Communications Sprinter jersey with a 1-point lead on Phinney.
The Queen Stage. The race concludes with the 100 miles (161 km) with 11,000 feet (3,352.8 m) of climbing including the mountain top finish at Snowbird. The final battle between the GC contenders.
“Tomorrow is going to be a big challenge but it’s going to be fun too.” smiled Leipheimer.
“Tomorrow, more of the same probably from the gun.” said Lill. “It’s going to be tough, I think both Phil and myself and definitely Jai are going to try and slip into moves. It’s going to be quite difficult for me, Mancebo is really keeping an eye on me, he doesn’t want to lose his second place on GC. Might be more opportunity for Phil or Jai to slip into the move, whatever is going to work out best for the team, we’ll see.”
“We’ll see how I recover and see what we can do tomorrow.” said Louder. “I really want to see Bookwalter move up, he;s been riding for me for years, he’s a great friend. BMC is not out of it for the GC, it just probably won’t be me.”
Top 10 Stage Results
1. Jeff Louder (BMC Racing Team) 1:14:45
2. Jai Crawford (Fly V Australia) +0:00:22
3. Francisco Mancebo Perez (Canyon Bicycles)
4. Davide Frattini (Team Type 1)
5. Benjamin Jacques-Maynes (BISSELL Pro Cycling Team)
6. K Frank Pipp (BISSELL Pro Cycling Team)
7. Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team)
8. Christopher Jones (Team Type 1)
9. Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s)
10. Darren Lill (Fly V Australia)
Top 10 GC After Stage 4
1. Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) 8:12:36
2. Francisco Mancebo Perez (Canyon Bicycles) +0:01:28
3. Darren Lill (Fly V Australia) +0:01:49
4. Phillip Zajicek (Fly V Australia) +0:02:07
5. Ian Boswell (BISSELL Pro Cycling Team) +0:02:29
6. Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team) +0:02:40
7. Cesar Grajales (On The Rivet p/b Ion Sports Nutrition) +0:03:05
8. Jonathan Mccarty (Team Rio Grande) +0:03:27
9. Lachlan Morton (Team Holowesko Partners) +0:03:41
10. Tyler Wren (Jamis/Sutter Home p/b Colavita) +0:03:45