“That was huge, I finished second and fourth at a lot of bike races already this year and so to actually cross the line first, oh it was so amazing.” smiled Jesse Anthony after the press conference at the end of stage 1 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
Huge indeed. I don’t think the Kelly Benefit Strategies-Optumhealth rider has stopped smiling since he outsprinted his breakmates to win the first road stage. And not just any breakmates, it was one against two very strong pair of teammates, Levi Leipheimer and Jani Brakjovic of Radioshack and Oscar Sevilla and yellow jersey Sergio Henao of Gobernacion Indeportes Antiquioa.
But before the final sprint, riding solo over 40 kilometers, Anthony has bridged across to the early break, dropped them on the climb to go solo again. and then jumped on the Radioshack-Gobernacion train when it came rolling by him.
“I certainly didn’t want to go alone but no one came with me, and once I got out there I was definitely second-guessing my move,” he said about his solo attack, “but I’ve attacked in every bike race that I’ve done this year at some point or another, I like to race really aggressively and I like to roll the dice. If you attack a hundred times, 99-times it’s not going to work but one time it will and this time it did. I couldn’t be happier, I don’t know, call it stupid but it worked out.”
His attack delivered “absolutely” the biggest win of his career. “We’ve been working so hard all year, preparing specifically for races like this and the Amgen Tour of California, US Pro Championships and we really strive to perform at the races of higher caliber like this in the US.” the 26-year old said.
“It was a full team effort today, all my teammates worked super hard and we’ve been preparing for this race super hard very diligently. Getting a stage win on the first stage is just amazing and huge relief off our backs and now it allows us to see what else we can do this week.”
Anthony also claimed the XO Communications Sprint Leader jersey.
Dumbest or smartest attack ever? That was the question that many were asking themselves when Anthony headed out solo on the second 38-mile (68-km) lap while the early break dangled off the front.
“About 20km to the finish line when I went by myself, it felt so stupid,” he smiled, “but I knew I wasn’t going to climb with those guys the last time so I wasn’t going to wait until we hit the climb on the last lap and then roll in the second or third group. We race to win, we win by attacking because I’m not the best climber here, I’m not Jani Brajkovic or Levi Leipheimer, I can’t climb with those guys. I went when I could, I took an opportunity.”
Anthony counter-attacked when the field reeled in a chase group that included his teammate Mike Creed after Radioshack put in massive pulls at the front.
“When they got caught, the field was kind of looking at each other, catching their breath, thinking it’s so far to go (to the finish). I was hoping to get a little group but when it’s just one guy they’re also ‘ah screw it, who cares’.”
And then there was no looking back. Anthony rode solo in no man’s land with the field keeping a tight leash on the gap until 5 km to the finish line at the end of the second lap, when they just let him go.
“I was closing on the break that was out there, it was obviously really tired. I kind of caught them in a perfect spot about 5 kilometer after the finish line. We had about between 5 to 10 kilometers to the climb, so I was able to work with them a little bit and rest and get a little bit of recovery before I hit that climb.”
And then it was time to put in practice the experience gained at US Pro Road Championships back in May in Greenville.
“From the bottom of the climb I just tried to ride the best tempo that I could. It’s something I learned at US Pro Nationals, it was don’t go super-hard because I basically attacked the group I was on in that race and then I got caught and blown out, so I just rode my own tempo.”
Though not his primary goal, his tempo was enough to drop the other riders, tired from riding in the break for 75 miles (121 km).
“I got over the top first and it was perfect. I was just so happy to see one kilometer to go and know that I still had a solid gap, and certainly by the top of the climb I was feeling my effort.”
Once again Anthony was solo off the front until the freight train came rolling by, something that he was expecting. His only surprise was that the group was so small.
“When those four riders, the two Radioshack guys, Henao and Oscar, caught me, I was just hanging on to them for dear life. The gap was about 20 seconds at first to the chase group and I was just content to be there, as far as I was concerned I did my job to that point, I was where I wanted to be.”
He recovered and watched the gap to the shattered field grow. “The gap blew open to about a minute and a half at one point, I think it was about 20, 25 km to go and that’s when I switched to ‘how about winning the stage’.”
Anthony admits being nervous coming to the finish line. “I was just praying God please me to do this. I had a better kick than most of those guys, and they had obviously been working really hard pulling on the downhill section.”
Timing was key. “I didn’t want to wait too late in case someone else jumped early but I was sitting fifth guy for the longest time, moved up to fourth and then third through those last two corners. Then I saw Henao start to jump a little bit and I was like ‘here we go’. It was about 250 meters out, I just sprinted as hard as I could and I looked and I could see the wheels behind me and I just kept on going. “
By the end of the day, we had our answer, definitely a smart move.
Anthony’s face when crossing the finish line expressed his elation, finally the big win he’s been looking for since he chose to focus on the road. As he told podiuminsight back in June, the decision was made with a long-term goal of racing full-time in Europe
“I know if I want to go race in Europe, I’m not 21 years old anymore, they’re not going to take me over there as a young guy who has potential. If I’m going to earn a spot, it’s because I’m a guy who can win races and so that’s what inspired me to push for it this year.” he said in June.
Today’s stage in addition to his overall win at Nature Valley Grand Prix definitely shows that he can win races.
But the week is not over yet. Anthony moved up to fourth place on general classification, only 18 seconds down from Henao. A spot he intends to defend.
“I’ll just climb with the best until the last day. I think until then it certainly won’t be easy but I think I can stay in the top 5 until the final day and that’s just going to be a test to see how my climbing legs really are.”