Travis McCabe may have grown up in landlocked Arizona before his recent move to landlocked Colorado, but that doesn't mean he's never been surfing. The UnitedHealthcare sprinter relied on his instincts and experience over the final lap of stage 1 at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, surfing from wheel to wheel until he found a spot to launch his sprint from 250 metres out, taking the victory in Cedar City for his third career win at the race.
McCabe's team kept him protected throughout the stage, and teammates Janier Acevedo and Lucas Haedo guided him through the first two of three laps on a short finishing circuit in Cedar City before McCabe took over.
"I like to surf wheels," McCabe said in the post-stage press conference. "I feel more comfortable kind of doing my own thing, and so after Serghei [Tvetcov] launched across and tried to go solo, I was on Will Clarke's wheel, which was a little bit too far up.
"I think coming into the last 'K' I was third wheel, which really isn't ideal, but there was a tailwind coming into the finish and I was confident. The first three laps I was safe riding with the guys, and the last lap I did on my own."
McCabe jumped off the wheel of Hagens Berman Axeon's Michael Rice and drove for the line, winning with a comfortable enough margin to post up ahead of runner-up Ulises Castillo Soto (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) and third-placed Edwin Avila (Israel Cycling Academy).
Before any of that happened, however, McCabe had to make it up and over the 24km climb in Cedar Breaks that reached pitches of 13 per cent. McCabe rode near the front of the group on the climb and made it over easily, while US criterium champion Ty Magner (Rally Cycling) was dropped on the climb and never regained the peloton.
"It was a pretty fast pace, and we lost a few of the bigger sprinters like Ty Magner on that climb because there was a tailwind," McCabe explained. "The pace was pretty hard. We were on the pedals all day. We were expecting that. We didn't really contribute too much to the chase because you could tell guys in the breakaway were starting to come off maybe a little early on, like at 90km, so we let it play out."
Once the escapees were in check and all of the counter attacks reeled in on the closing circuits, Ivan Santaromita (Nippo-Vini Fantini) attacked with one lap to go and was then joined and overtaken by McCabe's teammate Tvetcov in a move that looked dangerous. But inside the final 1,000m, the remnants of the sprint trains hit the front.
McCabe said Tvetcov's late attack "was and wasn't" part of the team plan.
"We knew there were possibilities for flyers to go up the road," McCabe said. "We were more or less hoping to use Serghei to cover moves, not to launch it, but it ended up working in our favour.
"He took a flyer with one lap to go, and that forced other guys to chase and keep the pace high, because a lot of times it will swell, and when it swells is when it gets dangerous," McCabe said. "Guys are fighting a little bit more, and there are variations in speed, which causes crashes, so we kind of wanted to keep the pace high, but we don't have the manpower to do it full-out, so we use guys like Serghei to launch across and keep it stretched out."
McCabe previously won stages in Utah in 2016 and 2017, but his third win comes at a timely moment, with his team set to lose UnitedHealthcare as its title sponsor and next year not looking certain.
"We all know we're losing a title sponsor and we might not be around next year, but we're here to race our bikes, and all the guys are motivated," he said. "I think it shows the depth of character we have on the team. None of the guys are selfish or looking for their own opportunities. I think everyone will get their chance at this race and at the Colorado Classic [next week -ed.], so we're all still racing as a team and getting results as a team."
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