Tour of Utah review

Having started the final stage tied on aggregate time, Tom Danielson successfully attacked Chris Horner on the final climb to earn a merited victory to finish an exciting Tour of Utah in which the leader’s jersey changed hands on all but one of its six days.

Race summary

BMC’s Greg van Avermaet stole the win from under the noses of the sprinters on the one remotely flat stage of the race. The Belgian had arrived in Utah with great form, having won two stages and the overall at the Tour de Wallonie two weeks previously.

A two-man break of Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) and Michael Torckler (BIssell) had led for most of the day, but were brought to heel inside the closing 8km as the peloton completed three short circuits of Cedar City. Van Avermaet made his move under the flamme rouge, splintering the chasing pack just enough to allow him to win by half a dozen bike lengths. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) was second, with Tyler Magner (Hincapie Sportswear) third.

The tables were turned the following day as Matthews outsprinted van Avermaet at the end of the race’s longest stage, a 210km parcours passing through the spectacular Bryce Canyon National Park.

Martin Wesemann (MTN-Qhubeka) was the last survivor of the day’s two-man break, as an intact peloton caught him on the final cat 1 climb of Boulder Mountain. Andrz Flaksis (Bontrager) attacked over the summit and dangled 15-20 seconds off the front until the peloton finally reeled him in with 5km to go and dealt ruthlessly with subsequent attacks by Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) and Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp).

Bontrager attempted to set up the sprint for Jasper Stuyven, but he could only finish third as Matthews headed van Avermaet by a bike length to take both his first win of the year and the leader’s yellow jersey.

Stage three featured a 20-man breakaway but was ultimately won by a solo effort by Australia’s Lachlan Morton, at 21 the youngest rider on Garmin-Sharp’s entire roster.

The escape slipped up the road on the early, flat part of the course, before disintegrating on the day’s major climb, the cat 1 Mount Nebo, with Americans Ben King (RadioShack-Leopard) and Carter Jones (Bissell) forging ahead. Morton successfully bridged to the two leaders on the upper part of the climb before going it alone with 40km to go and a 1:20 advantage over a peloton reduced to around 20 riders.

With the last 35km mostly downhill and the chase not fully committed behind him, Morton rolled home 33 seconds ahead of stage one winner Greg van Avermaet, with Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) third. The Garmin youngster – who finished seventh overall in this race as an 18-year-old in 2010 – added the yellow jersey to his stage victory, leading van Avermaet by 22 seconds in the overall.

Stage four was a short 55km stage comprising five laps of a circuit around Salt Lake City. The pace was fast throughout, with breaks kept on a short leash to set up a fiercely contested uphill finish involving the key contenders.

As on the opening stage, Greg van Avermaet put in a solo attack inside the final kilometre, but Michael Matthews responded immediately to cover the threat. With the bunch reforming for the final sprint, it was UnitedHealthcare’s Alessandro Bazzana who opened up the charge for the line, but Matthews proved to be the strongest, easily holding off van Avermaet and Jasper Stuyven – the same top three as on stage two.

If Lachlan Morton struck a blow for the younger generation on stage three, then Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) struck back for the veterans on the queen stage, as the 41-year-old took victory on the climb up to Snowbird.

BMC’s Yannick Eijssen, the last survivor of the day’s ten-man break, led solo up the early part of the climb. With race leader Morton dropped (he would eventually lose 4:05 to tumble out of the top ten), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) attacked out of the chasing group. He was initially joined by Horner’s teammate George Bennett and Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman), but when he rode away from the pair Horner himself bridged across and the duo caught Eijssen with 3km left. Horner sat on Danielson’s wheel on the climb up to the finish and picked his moment to snatch victory. Eijssen held on for third, half a minute back. In the overall, Horner and Danielson were tied on overall time but the former took over the leader’s jersey,

The concluding stage saw the riders finish on the previous day’s concluding climb in the opposite direction – a tricky 8km descent off the back of a tough final ascent featuring two sections with double-digit gradients. With everything to play for between the top two, it was Garmin-Sharp’s Peter Stetina whose tempo blew the field apart, setting up Danielson to successfully attack Horner at the base of the final climb. He caught and passed the remnants of the day’s 15-man break to lead over the summit.

Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy) and Janier Acevedo reconnected with him on the descent. Knowing that he held a decisive advantage over Horner, Danielson was able to let Mancebo and Acevedo battle it out for the stage win. Mancebo won, and Danielson rolled in four seconds behind – third on the day but the overall winner over Horner by 1:25. Acevedo jumped up to third overall.

Michael Torckler won the mountains classification. double stage winner Michael Matthews claimed the sprint competition. Lachlan Morton finished as best young rider and RadioShack-Leopard took the team prize.

Analysis & opinion

This was an interesting and varied race with a pleasing mix of shorter and longer stages, smaller hills and high mountains and both summit and downhill finishes. Any race which runs through Bryce Canyon is guaranteed to offer spectacular scenery – it was just a shame that the TV feed didn’t live up to it.

Unsurprisingly it was the WorldTour teams who dominated this race, winning all but the final stage and claiming the top two steps on the podium. Only Cannondale missed out on the spoils as Orica-GreenEDGE (two wins), BMC, Garmin-Sharp and RadioShack-Leopard (one each) brought riders to the finish line first.

But who outside of the big-name teams caught the eye during this week? Final stage runner-up and third overall, Colombian climber Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) is already a prominent name on the US circuit, who finished third overall at this year’s Tour of California, including a summit victory in 40ºC-plus heat. Veteran Spaniard Francisco Mancebo spent eight years riding for Banesto/Illes Balears (now Movistar), boasting three top-five Vuelta and five top-ten Tour finishes, and has had considerable success since relocating to the North American circuit.

Former Ag2r, Cervelo and RadioShack rider Philip Deignan finished a creditable sixth. The Irishman had previously won a stage in finishing ninth overall at the 2009 Vuelta a Espana and also finished ninth at this year’s Tour of California. A strong climber, he doesn’t turn 30 until next month and could well find his way back into a WorldTour team next year, with Sky rumoured to be among his suitors.

Finally, it’s always a pleasure to see Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) dishing out the pain. Having confirmed that he will return in 2014 for one more season of shouting at his legs to shut up, he seemed to make it his mission statement this week to attack at every possible opportunity, adding a little spice to virtually every stage.

General classification

1. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) 23:05:48

2. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:25

3. Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) +1:39

4. Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) +1:57

5. Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Leopard) +2:01

6. Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) +2:27

7. Michael Schar (BMC) +3:11

8. Carter Jones (Bissell) +3:49

9. Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy) +3:50

10. Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Leopard) +3:50

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