I enjoyed solid training at altitude in Park City. A massive thanks for Mike Conti for hosting Joe Dombrowski and I for two weeks.
Tour of Utah: 7 Days
Ben King, Ted King, Joe Dombrowski, Jasper Bovenhuis, Alex Howes, Ruben Zepunkte
Stage 1: 215 km
It poured rain all day. A breakaway escaped on the long uphill start. No teams wanted to take control and the gap went out to 14 minutes. When we finally started chasing, the speed stayed high to the finish. I helped pulled for a while to bring down the gap, but mostly in order to warm up and quit shivering. Three finishing circuits awaited us in Logan. I saw the sprinter’s teams ragged from chasing and followed a big attack with 10 km to go. We had the breakaway in our sights, but couldn’t make it. On the circuits Alex launched across the gap. Ruben and I surfed the front trying to frustrate the chase. Alex stayed away and placed second. Ruben and I were top 20.
Stage 2: 161 km
An 8 km climb topped out 30 km from the finish. I found myself suffering, but crested with the lead fifty riders. We ripped into the four three km finishing circuits and I felt "the angry" in my legs. A small steep hill just after the start finish provided a launching pad for late attacks. I followed every move, and on the final lap threw in my own. The elastic stretched but didn’t break, so I lead Alex into fifth position for the final corner. He placed 7th and I was top 20 again.
Stage 3: 178 km
With our rookie, Jasper Bovenhuis, in the breakaway we sat back and waited for the two steep climbs before the finish. We flew down the backside of the second climb of the day. Some guys sat on their top tubes approaching 90 kph. Others sipped water. I moved toward the front, reveling in the easy, relaxed way we erased distance to the finish. All the sudden the rider ahead of me overlapped his front wheel with guy in front of him. He locked his brakes, and fishtailed. I didn’t believe he would crash. I was wrong. The next moment, I hurdled through the air in a horrifying somersault. My POC helmet cracked on the pavement whipping my back onto the chip seal. I rolled a few times, and jumped to my feet like a bowling pin as the peloton whizzed by and unfortunate bikes and riders ground to a stop like rag dolls. I jumped on my spare bike and looked myself over. My shoe was broken so I switched it with a spare from the car while chasing at 80 kph. Instead of helping contest the finish, I pulled the team into position on the lower slopes of the first finishing climb and finished in the gruppetto.
Stage 4: 205 km
Maybe I was frustrated by the crash, and refused to let it waste all the work I’d done. Maybe because I’m thick, or as a response to all of the encouragement I received after the crash, I followed attacks like a maniac on the 30 km uphill start until seven of us established a gap. It irked me that the peloton only gave us a three minute advantage. But, at least I was with good friends from other teams. Shout out to my amigo, Mexican strong man, Luis Lemus.
I suffered a mechanical and had to stop to fix it. It hurt to come back. With only 2 minutes between us and the peloton at the base of a 16 km climb, our goal simply became surviving to the top. The responsibility fell mostly on me and my breakaway companion, Robin Carpenter. The Colombians chased hard and pulled us back to 30 seconds. Somehow we managed to ward off the catch. Then the mechanical resurfaced and I fell behind trying to fix it without stopping. Fingers dangerously close to my spokes at 60 kph, I managed to get the bike pedaling again, and set off in pursuit. I dragged myself back and reorganized. Our next time check was up to two minutes with fifty km to go. We worked together over the final climb holding onto a 45 second gap with ten km to go. The chasers would be tired, but so were we. Within 4 km to go, the peloton swept us up.
Stage 5: 90 km Circuit Race (7 laps)
We ripped down the bumpy high speed descent, rushing into corners for position before the 1 km wall at the finish. I took it as easy as possible until the final two laps, where I covered a few attacks and kept the speed high. I dragged Joe into position for the final climb and got out of the way.
Stage 6: 180 km
The queen stage is one of the hardest days in the USA. I was supposed to stay with Joe, while Alex and Ruben covered attacks, but things got out of control and Alex asked me to help cover attacks. I ended up in a twelve man breakaway. We drilled it into Guardsman Pass with less than three minutes advantage. The breakaway disintegrated by the top. I crested just behind two leaders and 45 seconds ahead of Joe in a select group of climbers. I caught the leaders, including my roommate in Italy, Joey Rosskopf, on the downhill. The three of us began to think about the finish. But I only wanted to stay ahead for Joe. Remembering how Joe had punished me in training on these climbs, I knew what was coming on the final climb to Snowbird.
Three of us went through ten km to go with the chasers on our heals. On the steepest part of the climb I looked back and saw Joe charging toward us. It sent a shiver through me. I matched his speed, then brought it up a notch. My new finish line was as far as I could go at that speed. We obliterated the lead group. When I swung off, Joe had a considerable advantage and danced away from the only two left.
Spectators told me Joe was alone with a minute gap. I rode as slow as possible, in anticipation of defending his new lead. For my efforts I was awarded the most aggressive rider jersey.
Stage 7: 130 km
To have the entire team lined out on the front controlling the race with the yellow jersey in tow inspires confidence and pride. Only a few challengers were close enough to worry Joe. After ten minutes of ballistic attacks we’d allowed a breakaway of 16. The best placed rider was 11 minutes behind in the overall. A few desperadoes attacked a brutal climb halfway through the race. They put me on the ropes but we were able to neutralize them before they reached the breakaway. I emptied my tank on the lower slopes of Empire Pass, an immense climb that wore out the teeth on our granny gears.
Job done, Ruben Zepunkte and I weaved our way to the top getting reports that Joe looked comfortable with eleven leaders. We snagged beers off spectators and shared a quick toast before the downhill.
Currently I’m in a plane bound for Tuscany. I have just under two weeks before beginning my second Grand Tour ever, the Vuelta a Espana. Until then!
Thanks for the support,