Rob Britton doesn't ski. But that won't stop the Rally Cycling rider from enjoying the set of downhill skis he got as a prize for winning the stage 3 uphill time trial at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and seizing the race lead.
"I'm stoked," he said in the post-stage press conference. "I don't ski at all, but I just moved to Calgary last fall, and all my friends who used to bike race quit bike racing last year, so I can either go mountain biking with them or backcountry skiing with them. Now that I have skis, I mean I don't own skis, so I'm actually legitimately excited."
Such is the glass-half-full attitude that has served the 32-year-old Canadian well throughout his often-overlooked career. Britton drew plenty of spotlight on himself Wednesday, covering the 9km uphill course at altitude in 18:29, 13 seconds faster than runner-up Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) and 26 seconds faster than third-placed Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare).
Britton took the yellow jersey from teammate Sepp Kuss and now leads Mannion in the overall by 26 seconds and Tvetcov by 28. Cylance Cycling's Kyle Murphy is fourth at 34 seconds, with Axeon Hagens Berman's Neilson Powless rounding out the top five, 38 seconds back. BMC Racing's Brent Bookwalter, who was third in 2015, is currently sixth overall, 44 seconds down.
Britton used a simple strategy to take the win: go as hard as he could for as long as he could and then try and hold on when the power started to fade. He was one second off Tvetcov's top time at the intermediate time split halfway up the climb, then surged to the win over the final 4.5km.
"The watts did nothing but drop for the entire race, more or less," Britton said. "That's the way I planned it, but I just didn't want to have too big of a drop. But definitely the first 5 or 6km I was running pretty hot, and then the last couple I was just holding on for dear life."
Britton is holding onto the yellow jersey now, and he said he feels like he's in the GC driver's seat with four stages remaining.
"This has been my objective pretty much since California," said Britton, who finished fifth in Utah last year. "It's one of my main objectives for the whole year, even after last year. We kind of set new standards for how to train and get ready for the races. Usually when I focus on something I'm able to see it through. With today's ride and how I'm feeling and how I felt yesterday, we're right where we want to be."
"We brought a team to protect me and Sepp, and Sepp's still not too far down, and with the stages we have to come, I'm very confident."
The four stages remaining include Thursday's relatively sedate 201km trek through the desert, with no categorised climbs and only two intermediate sprints.
Friday's ride from Layton to Bountiful is mostly flat until the second half of the stage, which includes to hilly finishing circuits in the finale.
Saturday's Queen stage has been shortened this year to just 99km, but it includes the category 1 climb over American Fork Canyon at 33km and the final out-of-category climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
Sunday's final stage is 11 laps of a roughly 11km circuit around the state capitol in downtown Salt Lake City. The loop contains one punchy climb to wear down the peloton.
"While Saturday is hard, it's pretty straight forward," Britton said. "I mean, get over the first climb with as many guys as possible, and then just take care of business on Snowbird.
"I think Sunday is probably just gonna be one of – if not the hardest – day of bike racing at the tour. That stage is incredibly hard. It's going to be insanely hot. And it's on day seven. With the turn around from a really hard stage the day before, people's legs are going to be hurting. I'd say that circuit is incredibly hard.
"The next couple stages, I mean our hard 200km tomorrow and then the stage down to bountiful with those two finishing circuits that are difficult. But like I say, we brought the team here to take care of business."