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Eric Young sprinted to glory in stage 5 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah to earn Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies its first win at the stage race.
A long-range breakaway was no match for the sprinters’ teams, as Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies and UnitedHealthcare both worked hard to bring things back together.
Although he relied on his team’s firepower to control the race, Young was mostly on his own in the final sprint. He kept his cool as the pace fluctuated in the long, straight final drag, to jump at just the right moment and claim his fourth major victory of 2014.
“It’s totally unbelievable for me personally and for the team as well,” Young said. “We were so close on stages 1 and 3, and we were really trying hard for those. We rode pretty hard to get the break back today. Our three guys, Jesse [Anthony], [Tom] Solladay, and Mike Friedman really had to lay down for that.”
With only 10 miles gone in the 101.4-mile stage, the race’s points leader and winner of two stages, Moreno Hofland (Belkin) abandoned.
The first major escape was again rather large, with Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), Jeffry Louder (UnitedHealthcare), Alexander Candelario (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), Serghei Tvetcov (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Sportswear Development), and Oscar Clark (Hincapie Sportswear Development) all off the front.
The breakaway split before first sprint, leaving Bookwalter, Clark, and Louder out front.
Heading into the base of the day’s only climb, Bald Mountain Pass, Voigt attacked again, followed by Kirk Carlsen (Jelly Belly). The two successfully bridged to the three leaders.
Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Sportswear Development), leader of the king of the mountains classification, didn’t want to be left out of the action on the category 2 climb and also bridged up to the leaders.
Over the top of Bald Mountain Pass, the lead group had an advantage of about three minutes. Carpenter padded his KOM lead, riding first across the climb. He was followed by Voigt in second and Carlsen third.
On the long descent, Tanner Putt (Bissell Development Team) tried unsuccessfully to bridge to the leaders.
With about 25 miles remaining, the peloton, notably Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies and SmartStop, decided to start chipping away at the break’s advantage, which had ballooned to five minutes at one point.
When they reached the final circuit through Kamas, Oakley and Peoa, the breakaway’s advantage had been cut to 2:20.
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies did the majority of the work to chase back the breakaway, putting most of their team on the front in the final 20 miles of racing.
With about 12 miles to go, the peloton was disrupted by a crash, which saw Ben Hermans (BMC Racing), who sits second on GC, hit the ground.
With some help from his teammates, Hermans made his way back to the field a few miles later.
When the breakaway hit a section of dirt road with 8 miles to go, Clark attacked his fellow escapees.
“[The dirt] was fun,” Young said. “The battle for position into it…I mean I was lucky that my guys were on the front so that kind of made it easier for me personally. It was still a little hectic. There was a crash near that first corner before the dirt. It was all about just staying in good position.”
Carlsen bridged to the solo leader once they hit the pavement, but soon the lead group was back together, aside from Louder, who had been gapped by the attacks.
“I was willing myself to the line,” Louder. “All of the five other guys were all super strong. From the top of the climb all the way to the dirt section it was all headwind. So we just didn’t have enough horsepower to hold off the whole peloton.”
Clark and Carpenter then started playing cat-and-mouse games with the break. They were the only teammates in the group of five.
With Louder back in the field, UnitedHealthcare took up the peloton’s pacesetting duties.
The breakaway’s cooperation soon disintegrated and the field brought them back with two miles remaining, setting up for a bunch sprint.
When the peloton saw one mile to go, BMC’s leadout train barged in on UnitedHealthcare, taking control at the front.
However, inside of the final kilometer, organization broke down, resulting in a chaotic sprint.
Young (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) took the initiative, jumping early and holding off a late charge from Jure Kocjan (SmartStop) to win.
“I was just really happy to improve on my finishes in the first couple sprints and reward the guys with winning here,” Young said. “This was a really cool stage – we had a little bit of everything today. I’m really happy to be able to win.”
Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) tried make a late push, coming off Kocjan’s wheel in the final meters, but he had to settle for third.
“I knew Eric would be the guy to beat today,” Reijnen said. “He was the stronger guy today so that’s alright by me. We were really close on stages 1, 2, and 3, and today I really wanted to win the stage. That’s a little heartbreaking because we came here to win a stage.”
With Hofland’s early withdrawal, Kocjan, the former race leader, did receive a consolation prize — he now leads the points competition.
The general classification remained unchanged, as Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), Hermans, and Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) all finished in the field.
Saturday will see the peloton tackle the Tour of Utah’s queen stage, with an ascent of Guardsman Pass and a summit finish at Snowbird ski resort.