Britton flying under the radar at Tour of Utah

Rally Cycling rider was fifth in 2016

Among the riders gathered in a Utah State University auditorium for the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah pre-race press conference on Sunday, one name was conspicuously absent.

Rob Britton, the Rally Cycling rider who was fifth last year and is the highest 2016 finisher in this year's race, was back in the dorms with his teammates enjoying some down time.

Operating out of the spotlight is not new for Britton, who at 32 has evolved into one of the top stage racers in North America but is often left out of conversations that focus on the up-and-coming riders Britton regularly beats.

Britton excelled at the Tour of California in May, but his herculean efforts in the breakaways at the WorldTour race contributed to victories for teammate Evan Huffman. After missing the crucial breakaway on stage 2 and watching his general classification aspirations disappear up the road, Britton joined Huffman and three other riders in sticking a breakaway two days later to the finish in Santa Clarita, where Huffman took the win and Britton followed him in for second.

Britton was active again on the Queen stage, jumping away from the select lead group on the penultimate climb, dropping Team Sky's Peter Kennaugh and then holding off the GC group until the early slopes of the final climb up Mt. Baldy.

The very next day, Britton was in the break again with Huffman, supplying the power to keep the move away and set up Huffman's second stage win of the race.

"I've been really, really happy with my season," Britton told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Utah team presentation. "The results personally haven't been huge, I mean getting second in stage of a WorldTour race is still the best result of my life, but being able to help facilitate the success of the team at a lot of those steps feels really good.

"A lot of other people see it, too," Britton said of his efforts this year. "My teammates see it, and that's part of being a teammate. It's not always your day. If I can be a part of the difference between winning and losing, I'm more than happy. Those two days in California with Evan, I was more than happy – I mean one of us had to win and he has a better kick than I do."

Britton has collected his own results this season. He was second in the opening uphill time trial at the Joe Martin Stage Race, and he took the mountains jersey at the Tour of the Gila in April.

His only win so far this season came in dominating fashion at the Tour de Beauce, when he soloed away on the notoriously difficult final stage in Saint-Georges and nearly lapped the yellow jersey group on a 10km circuit.

Following Beauce, Britton went to Canadian nationals, where he finished third in the time trial. Since then, he's been laser focused on the upcoming block of races at Utah, the Colorado Classic and the Tour of Alberta. Most recently, Britton has been training at altitude starting with a team camp in Nederland, Colorado, with his personal coach, Chris Baldwin.

"The whole team more or less was up there for 10 days," Britton said. "I was up there for two weeks. I've been at altitude for three weeks now. It was super productive. Chris was there the whole time motorpacing us, doing the usual protocol before all that stuff, so it was an awesome, awesome camp."

Britton is hoping his focused preparation and a course that suits his skills can help him climb onto the podium – and maybe the top step – this year in Utah.

"It's hard, it's uphill and not a lot, if any, easy days, which is for me kind of ideal," he said. "I almost wish they had the old Snowbird stage that went over Guardsman. It's such a big day, and when you get older the longer, harder days are to your advantage."

The Queen stage to Snowbird has been tweaked a bit this year, with the climb through American Fork Canyon serving as the penultimate climb rather than the daunting Guardsman Pass outside of Park City. Nevertheless, Britton likes his chances on the Queen stage and in the stage 3 uphill 9km time trial.

"[The Queen stage is] stage 6 and people start to get a bit more tired," Britton said. "Usually early in the race when they have the big important stages that's not the best for me. But when everyone starts to get a bit more fatigued in the legs, usually it suits me a bit better.

"I've done Snowbird so many times now. The run-in is a bit different, but it's a climb I know very well. I know what to expect on the climb and also out of myself on the climb, and I think how to race it productively."

Britton will get his first opportunity to test out his climbing legs quickly during Monday's opening stage, which has two categorised climbs but will likely end in a sprint after a long downhill run to the finish. Stage 2 includes the first summit finish of the race at Snowbasin Resort after two classified climbs, then comes the stage 3 time trial that, despite the short distance, should provide more separation for the GC contenders.

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