I have finished stage 3 of the Tour of Utah and after flying back to Belgium and catching up with my two girls and a heap of other stuff I've finally decided to punch out the last three stages of the race so here goes!
Stage 4 - Provo to Nebo Mountain
Kicking off back in Provo we started off the stage with a short 'n sweet flat run of 50 kilometres into the bottom of a nice 36 kilometres climb and finishing off at 9,500ft. Now that the race for the overall contention was thinning out and the fact that we had a tailwind to the climb meant that every man and his dog wanted to be up the road!
The plan of the day was to get Phil or Valeriy up the road and onto the climb before the main group hit it. That way we had a man or two out in front to help if one of us who could get across on the climb. Phil managed to get away in a pretty decent-sized group with no real threats in it. Toyota was setting a fast tempo to deter anyone else from escaping (which didn't stop them at all). Guys were still trying to bridge across to a two-minute gap but weren't getting too far before being swallowed back up into the mouth of the peloton! Meanwhile the rest of the squad and myself sat back in the bunch out of the wind and out of trouble!
Well, everyone except me! While sweeping into a right hand bend one lad in front of me wasn't holding on to his handlebars properly and after hitting a few bumps decided that his wheels shouldn't grip the road anymore. He laid it over right in front of Chady. With nowhere to go I started to ride straight ahead but the bike kept coming after me! It gripped the sticky road just out of my line so my next obstacle was the side of the road and a barbed wire fence. I pulled the steed up in time and swung her around onto the bumpy off road. The bunch was gone but I clipped back in and onto the back of the race convoy. Ed cruised up to me and towed me back into the field.
The next bit of action came a few kilometres into the big berg. Phil was still up the road and the next plan came into play, Valeriy was keen to attack but before he did he rode past Chris Wherry who won the time trial the day before. He congratulated him, shook his hand and then attacked. They didn't know what to think of that move but it got a few laughs that's for sure! Once Valeriy was away Burke banged across to him, which started to put pressure on the rest of the teams. Valeriy set a fine tempo for Burke until he was ready take off on his own. Once Valeriy came back to us it was my turn. Off I went with about 27 kilometres remaining on the climb, which meant for a long day I thought…. By now the field was thinning out, which led to a few more lads trying their luck! Basically the climb turned into a bit of a drag race to the top.
Burke rode up with Scott Moninger on his wheel and I rode up behind another Health Net rider. Meanwhile Phil was riding up with Burke until he had enough of that and then rode up with me 'til he was over that as well! It was a good day out for him and some real good team riding! With around three kilometres to go the four of us came together with the rest of the main contenders about one minute back. Scott attacked with Burke and myself both trying to go after him. He opened a good gap immediately with his team mate sitting on us both. We chased him to the finish and Burke buried himself in the last kilometre to get back some time. I was rolled by Health Net for second and finished third. The new leader of the race was Jeff Louder a local lad riding for Health Net. Myself and Burke were sitting in third and fourth. The hardest and longest climb I'd done for a while and the altitude didn't make it any easier but views were pretty cool indeed!
Stage 5 - Down Town Salt Lake City Circuit
Six laps of a 10 kilometre circuit that took us up and over a 1.5 kilometre climb past the local Mormon big ass Temple! Starting and finishing out side of the Delta Center, which is home to the Utah Jazz and occupied by Nickelback for a Friday night concert! (I wished I was lining up for that instead of a 7pm thrash fest). Not much was going down in this one; the plan was to get a guy up the road, which ended up being Valeriy. The rest of us tried lighting it up on the climb a few times and put some pressure on the Health Net lads and wear 'em out a bit for the final stage. With two laps to go I went hard up the bottom of the climb and Sergey came across. We gave it a good nudge but were pulled back by the yellow jersey. As we sat up he passed us and commented that our effort was gonna hurt me tomorrow?? Ok buddy!! You chased me so our plan worked.
The field never caught the break, who finished about a minute in front. Every lap we crossed the finish line twice and just to confuse things we finished the opposite way we started. Unfortunately Valeriy was even more confused and realised what was going on 200m too late!!
The crowd was massive at the finish and it was great to see the big support from the locals, except for some big unit dressed in a black motor bike T-shirt and black jeans. He walked past me and mumbled I that I should get a real bike - a Harley. Thanks for the advice Chopper!! We Left the race by 9.30 but the final stage started at 8.30 the next morning!! Ouch, Time to sleep.
Stage 6 - Deer Valley - Snowbird Resort
The final stage and what a beauty, 120 kilometres and three KOMs. The first climb was pretty nasty with around 15 kilometres of climbing; it thinned the field out rather well with around 12 guys going over the top in the main group. A break was let go earlier in the stage with 15 non-overall contenders, we had Phil up there cruising along! On the first climb a few lads came back to and through us.
By the bottom of the first descent a second group had come back to us with Sergey in it so we had all of us still in the main group of 25. The second climb was only around five kilometres long and not as steep. Half way up Ed was keen for one of us to attack and try and thin the numbers out a bit more. I was feeling okay so I started to wind up and was about to go off the front when my front tire decided to deflate. So I crept back to the back and put my arm up and called Ed on the radio. A quick wheel change by Pete the mechanic and I was on my way back up to the group. I rested for a bit in the group and then went on the attack, which lasted 'til the bottom of the next descent. As I was caught at the bottom one lad decided to tell me that he caught me without even pedalling down the entire descent? Well buddy what does that tell ya, back off the Dunkin' Donuts!
Anyway back to the action. We hit the final 10 kilometre ascent to the finish at the Snowbird ski resort, which is at 8,500ft. Health Net had the pace high from the bottom and it wasn't long till Cesar hit out to start the action. What was left of the field started to splinter straight away and before long we were down to two Health Nets and three Navigators. Once Cesar came back it was my turn to go, Louder seemed to be struggling a bit with his team-mates tempo so it was a good time to go.
I got a gap straight away and Moninger had bridged across to protect his team-mate's yellow jersey. Once I had a gap I had to ease off the pace a bit and hope that Burke or Cesar could separate themselves from the yellow jersey and join me up the road. Neither of them could shake him just yet so I had to start to ride harder to maybe ride Moninger off my wheel, which was gonna be a toughy as he was sitting second on GC and I was third. All Scott had to do was sit and hang on and he had the tour won. I gave it everything to the top but he is good at altitude and has the motor to climb as well! Half way up he asked me where I lived as I was climbing well up here at altitude! I laughed and told him that I live at about 32 metres above sea level so I didn't think that would help.
By the finish there were still a few lads up the road including Phil, who finished third on the stage. Scott and I crossed the line shaking hands. I put all my cards down and he had no problems dealing with them. Burke managed to get away from Louder but missed third spot on the overall podium by twenty seconds.
The crowds on the final climb were awesome, people had painted names and sayings all over the road and they were very loud and enthusiastic! They would have rivalled some of the spectators over here in Europe! Great work people of Utah I can't fault yas!!
So the race had come to an end, I finished second on GC with Burke in fourth. We won the teams category and Sergey won the sprint competition! All in all a great tour at our first attempt and I hope to be back there again next season!
I'm on a bit of a break now from racing 'til the Navigators first Belgium outing on the third of September so 'til then its back to training and dodging the rain!