Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah race leader Tom Danielson owes a big debt of gratitude to his teammates after the Garmin-Sharp riders buried themselves for their team leader Thursday during stage 4 of the seven-day race. Danielson eventually dropped all other rivals on his way to a solo win on Powder Mountain, taking over the yellow jersey at the race he won last year.
“We were under a lot of pressure today,” Danielson said. “We have a young team here and guys who just came from the Tour de France. So they've got a lot on their plate. Guys like Ben [King] woke up this morning and didn't even know if he could start because he's in such a bad place. And then he ended up being the MVP, pretty much holding that 14-man break by himself.”
Garmin placed Thomas Decker in the 14-rider break that took almost 90 minutes to form on the roads around Pineview Reservoir. The pace was blistering fast as the group did 3.5 laps around the reservoir, setting up the final two climbs of the day.
“In the meeting this morning we knew that is was going to be really difficult, especially with BMC because they have so many guys high up on GC,” Danielson said. “We just had to let big groups go. Originally we were going to try and put some of our climbers in there and hopefully come across to them the last time up the climb and then use them in the end, but we had to ride them. When that initial selection went it was fast all day.”
The blue argyle squad kept the breakaway in check, never letting the gap get higher than 1:20 over the 168.5km stage. King, Janier Acevedo and stagiaire Gavin Mannion did much of the work on the flats with some help from Trek and Belkin. Then Phil Gaimon took over, leading Danielson up the penultimate climb and down the descent toward Eden Valley to the bottom of final 11km climb up Powder Mountain.
“It was chaotic,” Danielson said of the early parts of the stage. “It's really hard to make decisions out there because we don't have radios. So with a young team, I felt like we did a great job, but it was very difficult. Every single guy had to really suffer a lot today.”
After Gaimon led Danielson and teammate Alex Howes into the final climb, Howes took over and set a pace that blew the front general classification group apart. The pace quickly whittled the lead group down to a select group of stage-win hopefuls and overall contenders. Lampre-Merida's Chris Horner, third on the stage behind Danielson and BMC's Ben Hermans, said Howes did a really good job of blowing up the field.
“We were doing big, big power when Howes was on the front,” he said.
Howes, a 26-year-old from Boulder, Colorado, said the main objective for the day was to go for the stage win, and the team got that in a very big way with Danielson and the overall lead.
“Obviously, Tom was the best climber in the race,” Howes said. “And we had to make it as simple for him as possible, not necessarily as easy as possible, but as simple as possible. You know, really, I can't give the other guys enough credit. Phil did an amazing job. Ben did an amazing job, and our rookie Gavin was great. Everybody did a good job keeping things together in the beginning. We had Dekker up in the move keeping things together. It was good team effort, so we are pretty satisfied today.”
Danielson leads both Horner and Hermans in the general classification by 57 seconds. Lampre-Merida's Winner Anacona is fourth, 1:47 down. Belkin's Wilco Kelderman is sitting fifth, more than two minutes in arrears.
Garmin-Sharp will now have to defend over three more stages, starting today with the 163km route from Evanston, Wyoming, to Kamas. The route includes one long climb to the race's highest elevation point, but a long downhill run to the finish makes it unlikely it will affect the overall battle. The real test will come Saturday during the Queen Stage that finishes on Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. Horner took the yellow jersey during the stage last year, but Danielson took it away from him on the final day, which climbs over the daunting Empire Pass and finishes in Park City.
Howes indicated that his team still has a lot of work to do before the tour ends Sunday, and the final yellow jersey is still very much up for grabs.
“We'll see what we can put together,” Howes said. “But I think it's a little early, given how much work we've done, to make predictions on the overall.”