Moreno Hofland (Belkin) took his second stage win of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Wednesday by winning a bunch sprint finish at the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele. Team SmartStop’s Jure Kocjan finished sixth and held onto the race leader’s jersey for at least another day.
Hofland finished just ahead of Andrea Palini (Lampre-Merida) and Eric Young (Optum Pro Cycling) after a long drag down the auto racetrack’s finishing straight.
“My position was perfect,” Hofland said of the sprint. “I had three teammates in front of me with one half kilometer to go: Jetse Bol, Dennis Van Winden and Robert Wagner. The plan was to go second-to-last corner, and it worked out perfectly. Wagner pulled until 250 meters to go, and then I stayed left side because the wind was coming from the right, and it was perfect. I held it to the line.”
Hofland said he was well-rested for the finish after finishing stage 2 in 76th place, more than 13 minutes behind the leaders. The stage’s major climb proved too much for the Dutch sprinter, so he sat up and rode in at his own pace.
“Yesterday I rode in a nice grupetto and it worked out pretty good,” he said. “We rode to the finish pretty easy, and that’s why I had some extra energy, I guess.”
Wednesday’s 190.3km stage from Lehi to the auto racetrack looked tailor made for the sprinters, with only one KOM and a relatively mild 1,205 meters of elevation gain. Once again, the day’s breakaway peeled away from the bunch in the opening kilometers.
The six-rider group included UnitedHealthcare’s Danny Summerhill, Drapac’s Darren Lapthorne, Jelly Belly-Maxxis’ Jacob Rathe, Jamis-Hagens Berman’s Tyler Wren, Hincapie Sportswear’s Robin Carpenter and Bissell Development’s Daniel Eaton.
Carpenter started the day ninth overall, just 14 seconds off the time of race leader Kocjan, and his presence in the group meant SmartStop was going to limit the leader’s advantage. In fact, the team was lined up on the front, pressing the pace so hard that a Cannondale rider rode up alongside the SmartStop train and tried to persuade them to slow down the pace. Assistant team director Gord Fraser eventually drove the team car up to the front and talked to his squad.
“At that particular instance, it’s a matter of how many guys you ride and how hard,” Fraser said. “How quickly to let the gap out. How long to hold it, and the break play a lot into that as well, because it’s a little bit of gamesmanship.”
The advice took, and the team let the gap to go up to 3:15 before the first KOM, where Carpenter took maximum points and rode into the mountains classification lead. At that point, the Hincapie rider sat up and faded back into the field. Rathe was the next best escapee on GC, sitting 11:43 down. Carpenter said once he realized the field wasn’t going to let the gap go up, he decided to save his bullets.
“I kind of took a count of everybody around me and realized I was definitely the highest placed rider, the only one who had come in with the group yesterday,” Carpenter said. “I decided that it was more worthwhile to save my energy coming into these mountain stages for the rest of the tour.”
With GC threat gone from the break, the gap ballooned up to 4:25 about 100km into the stage. From there, the peloton slowly reeled the group back in, bringing the advantage down to 2:15 with about 50km remaining.
Belkin joined SmartStop in the chase, and the leaders had just 25 seconds over the field as they entered the finishing circuits at the motorsports park. Once in the park, the break began to disintegrate, and Rathe took a solo flyer to go for the win.
“People were tired and weren’t working anymore,” Rathe said of his last-gasp effort. “I thought I had a better chance by myself.”
Rathe held a small gap for more than lap, but with UnitedHealthcare taking over the chase in the finalé, the peloton swept Rathe up with just over one lap to go, setting up Hofland for the win.
Thursday’s stage that finishes at the top of Powder Mountain will be the first real test for the pure climbers. The 168.5km route includes two category 2 climbs before the out-of-category ascent to the finish. Kocjan will have all he can handle to hang onto the yellow jersey.
“Tomorrow’s stage is for sure very difficult,” Kocjan said. “The pure climbers will probably show their legs. We’ll see. They say the yellow jersey takes off 10 pounds. So we’ll see if that’s true.”