Knowing that there was no way that yellow jersey Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) would let either 3rd on GC Darren Lill or 4th Phil Zajicek get away, the Fly V Australia came into the Queen Stage with a plan: get Jai Crawford to the bottom of the climb and let him go. And that’s exactly what happened. After jumping across to the disintegrating early break, Crawford dropped, one by one, the riders in the break as he made his way up Snowbird to the finish line.
“This is my first win in the US this year on my last day of racing. It’s great. It’s the hardest day of racing all year that I’ve done, it suited me, I’m a climber. I’ve spent a lot of time this year working for guys like Ben Day and Phil, at different tours. Ben Day had an incredible year but he’s sick, he’s also my coach so I know he’ll be happy for me.” said Crawford who was celebrating his second wedding anniversary to wife Tina.
Two minutes behind him on the climb, 2nd on GC Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) gave chase with Leipheimer coming along for the ride, but not for long, as Leipheimer decided to go alone. With 3km to go, all uphill, the gap between the two men was one minute. With 1 km to go, it was down to 10 seconds and then the catch. Fans waited to see who would appear first on the left-hand sweep to the finish line. It was Crawford who had come around Leipheimer to take the win. One minute later, Mancebo won the sprint for 3rd ahead of Alex Hagman (On The Rivet p/b Ion).
With that, Leipheimer won “America’s Toughest Race” riding solo. Defending champion Mancebo was second. Ian Boswell (BISSELL) not only won the Best Young Rider classication but moved up to finish 3rd overall with his 8th on the stage.
The rest of the jerseys belong to Fly V Australia. Finishing 5th overall, Lill is the Best Utah Rider. David Tanner wins the Sprint competition and Crawford takes the KOM. And the Australian squad took home the overall team classification.
Ready, set, break. With no neutral in the tough 100 miles (161 km) stage, the attacks flew from the gun at the start in Park City, and only one mile in, a group was off the front of the field with Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong) leading the charge. And then another group bridged up and then another and by the time the break skirted the Jordanelle Reservoir, at 10 miles into the stage, 17 riders were off with a gap of 1 minute.
In the break were Ben King, Alex Dowsett and Phinney (Trek-Livestrong), Mike Olheiser (Canyon Bicycles), Rob Britton and Frank Pipp (Bissell), Jeff Louder (BMC), Sid Taberlay (CalGiant), Ian Gray and Taylor Kneuven (Rio Grande), Chris Jones and Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1), Chris Baldwin and Max Jenkins (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis), Darren Rolfe and David Tanner (Fly V Australia) and Andrew Barker, Caleb Fairly and Danny Summerhill (Holowesko Partners).
The break motored along fighting headwinds, and sometimes cross headwinds as the first battle of the day was coming up, the first sprint.
“I knew I had to be very attentive at the start, firstly because of the whole race and GC for our guys and secondly because of the sprint jersey. I saw Taylor go up the road so I jumped straight across with him.” said sprint leader Tanner.
With both Tanner and Phinney in the move, separated only by 1 point, the duel was imminent. Tanner took the first round, coming around Phinney for top points after sitting on his wheel. Dowsett took third.
“The first sprint, his team did a leadout for him and I knew it was vital that I win the first one because all I had to do was get second to him on the next one. I managed to win the first one and that took all the pressure off me for the next one.” said Tanner.
As they approached the second sprint of the day at mile 36, the gap was hovering around the minute mark. Phinney took top points with Tanner right on his wheel. Dowsett was third. With that, Tanner wins the sprint classification with a one-point lead on Phinney.
“The jersey is a bonus.” said Tanner. “My main goal for this week was to win the first road stage. I thought I’d have a chance in the prologue but when you’re up against someone Taylor Phinney, he’s incredible on that distance, I’m wrapped to win the first stage and the points jersey, it’s been good for me.”
Even though the break wasn’t well organized, it managed to increase its time to 2 minutes with Louder putting in massive pulls as they made their way to the first climb, Alpine Loop, an HC-rated climb at that. Behind them, the chase was assumed by Canyon Bicycles and Fly V Australia and then Jamis/Sutter Home also added riders to the rotation.
Turning point. Dropping riders as they started to climb, the break also lost time, with an ever decreasing gap, and that’s when Crawford and Marc De Maar (UnitedHealthcare) made their move.
“I just sat in the bunch and waited, we kept it at a manageable gap and then once we got to the first big climb I went across to the break with De Maar on the climb.” explained Crawford who bridged to the disintegrating field. A turning point for Fly V Australia.
“Jai was always the guy, I always knew that Levi was never going to let Phil or Darren up the road. We missed the break, we had two guys in it but the wrong guys. Crawford went across on the climb which was just phenomenal, yeah really happy.” said Fly V Australia DS Henk Vogels.
A group of six riders crested the KOM with Crawford taking top points ahead of Rolfe and de Maar. The re-shuffled break also included Jones, King, Jenkins and Louder. With 25 miles to go, the 7-riders had established a gap of 1:30 but soon they were down to six with Jenkins dropping back.
With 2 miles to the second KOM the gap was down to 1 minute from the 6 riders to the field, estimated to be only 20 riders. Once again, Crawford took top points on the KOM followed by de Maar and King. The six men stayed together for the next 10 miles with a gap hovering around the 2-minute mark. And then they turned right on Little Cottonwood marking the start of the climb to Snowbird.
Final attacks. With six miles to go, and a gap of over 2 minutes, the break fell apart. Crawford and de Maar were off together with King then Louder. After his solo victory in the previous stage and putting in a lot of work to keep the break going, Louder ran out of gas.
“We were away, from there Rolfie worked like a mad man, he was incredible, we stayed away, guys got dropped, dropped and dropped. Hit that last climb and that was it. As that point, everyone is incredibly tired.” said Crawford who dropped de Maar with 5 k to go.
Behind them, a chase group was surging up that included Mancebo, Leipheimer, Boswell, Lachlan Morton (Holowesko Partners), Zajicek, Lill, Pat McCarty (Rio Grande) and Boswell.
Leipheimer’s strategy up to the final climb had been to watch and wait. “I was fortunate that the breakaway went away very quickly, in the first mile it was gone. I watched Lill, I watched Phil Zajicek, I watched Paco Mancebo, none of them were in the break. So I figured that eventually teams would have to ride for their places as well and that’s exactly what happened.”
Mancebo put in another dig which dropped everyone but Leipheimer and McCarty. And then there were two with McCarty falling off the pace.
“When it was just Paco and I, I thought ‘well he did all the work’, I actually didn’t want to accelerate on him because he pulled for 20 km, but at the same time, I didn’t know exactly who was up the road, how many guys, there is no race radio, I heard it was two minutes and I knew that Jai was three or four minutes behind in classification. I was just wanted to be safe, better safe than sorry, so I just went at my pace to close the time gap.” explained Leipheimer who rode away from Mancebo.
With 3 K to go, two men were charging up the mountain, Crawford at the front, Leipheimer surging up a minute behind. With 2 k to go, the gap was down to 30 seconds.
“I wasn’t surprised, I knew that he was coming.” said Crawford about Leipheimer’s chase. “There was nothing I could do, I was riding as I could, I was just in a world of pain.”
Leipheimer caught Crawford with less than 1 k to go and the two men made their way to the finish line.
“It was actually nice when he caught me I could sit on his wheel out of the wind, that was great. I came over him with 200 meters to go, it flattened out so that good.” said stage winner Crawford.
“Well when I caught him, I was safe, I was going to win the race and I had done a big effort to get there and there is no denying the fact that he earned the stage and he deserved the stage more than me. I think it would have been wrong to sprint him for the win.” said overall winner Leipheimer.
The other battle. A third battle was happening on the slopes of Snowbird, the battle for the blue jersey, the Best Young Rider title between Boswell and Morton.
“I was seeing cross-eyed up the second climb and wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the final climb. But once we got here I knew what we had to do, keep him in sight.” said Boswell who, along with Morton, made his way into the Leipheimer group on the final climb. “Lill went backwards, and so I knew that I had to hang with those guys as much as possible to move up on GC.”
The two battled together all the way to the finish line, with Morton crossing first.
“I couldn’t have gone any harder up that final climb.” said Boswell. “It’s an honor, I had to fight to whole day. I saw Lachlan crash, he crashed on the descent of the first climb. For him to come back and have that ride is awesome. To win the Best Young Rider is awesome.”
Not only the blue jersey but third on GC, quite an accomplishment for the neo-pro, all of 19 years of age. “It’s huge. I came here knowing that I could do well but to get 3rd behind Levi and Mancebo is huge.” said Boswell as he waited for the podium ceremony. “It was hard day, the whole day. Just the same as Nebo, my team did an amazing job of keeping me protected, every time I was at the back or a gap opened up, someone gave me a push or bring me up to the front. At the end of the day, that made all the difference, having the team there to support me and saving energy for later on.”
Top 10 Stage Results
1. Jai Crawford (Fly V Australia) 4:27:10
2. Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s)
3. Francisco Mancebo Perez (Canyon Bicycles) 0:01:00
4. Alex Hagman (On The Rivet p/b Ion Sports Nutrition)
5. Jonathan McCarty (Team Rio Grande) 0:01:03
6. Benjamin King (Trek-LIVESTRONG) 0:01:21
7. Lachlan Morton (Team Holowesko Partners)
8. Ian Boswell (BISSELL Pro Cycling Team)
9. Matthew Cooke (teamgive p/b Blackbottoms/KFAN) 0:02:18
10. Davide Frattini (Team Type 1) 0:02:28
Top 10 Final GC
1. Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) 12:39:40
2. Francisco Mancebo Perez (Canyon Bicycles) 0:02:30
3. Ian Boswell (BISSELL Pro Cycling Team) 0:03:56
4. Jai Crawford (Fly V Australia) 0:03:58
5. Darren Lill (Fly V Australia) 0:04:32
6. Jonathan McCarty (Team Rio Grande) 0:04:36
7. Lachlan Morton (Team Holowesko Partners) 0:05:08
8. Alex Hagman (On The Rivet p/b Ion Sports Nutrition) 0:05:48
9. Cesar Grajales (On The Rivet p/b Ion Sports Nutrition) 0:06:56
10. Tyler Wren (Jamis/Sutter Home p/b Colavita) 0:07:07