Travis McCabe (Holowesko-Citadel) added the biggest win of his career to his palmares Thursday at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, taking the sprint in Kearns ahead Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo) and Sebastian Haedo (Team Jamis).
The result led to a light-hearted exchange between the two riders at the post stage press conference after McCabe told reporters the win was his biggest so far.
"Because you beat me," Reijnen joked.
"Yeah," McCabe said. "Very few times do I actually beat Kiel in the sprint."
"It's becoming petty consistent," Reijnen said before striking a serious tone to congratulate McCabe on a "well deserved" win. McCabe also beat Reijnen in the field sprint for third two days earlier in Torrey.
For McCabe, Thursday's win was the culmination of years of hard work slugging away on the North American domestic circuit. His third-place finish during stage 2, when he won the bunch sprint behind a two-man breakaway that included eventual stage winner and teammate Robin Carpenter, was just a taste of what was to come.
"I think the stage 2 third place was kind of validation that I have the legs and the speed right now that I can jump and hold it," McCabe said. "I was pretty confident coming into the last 500 metres. There are a lot of strong sprinters here and we weren't sure how it was going to play out. You've got Sebastian Haedo and Kiel. Eric Young (Rally Cycling) is always just a huge threat. So to win like this is the biggest one so far."
McCabe benefited from having a teammate in the day's main breakaway. Joe Lewis infiltrated an eight-man break, allowing McCabe and his team to sit back in the peloton and save their matches for the finale.
"Coming into today our plan was to continue to put someone in the break, and we were able to get Joe Lewis in there right away," McCabe said. "Putting him in there took the pressure off us to have to chase, and there were enough teams that wanted a sprint finish that we could sit back. Trek did a lot of work. Silber was up there. Rally was up there. We just kind of sat back , stayed out of everyone's way and tried to save it for the end."
When the peloton brought back the breakaway survivors just as they started the final three finishing circuits, Carpenter jumped into a move that further allowed the Holowesko riders to wait until the last possible moment to assert themselves.
"Robin was feeling really good so he said he'd give it a go at the end too if something rolled off the front," McCabe said. "So the last three laps when we came to the circuits a group went and Robin was there, so again that took the pressure off of us, and we just waited patiently."
Focus on being a sprinter
The team's efforts throughout the day obviously played out well in the end, and McCabe lauded his decision to sign with the team in the off-season after Team SmartStop, where he had ridden for two seasons, folded.
"Last year [Team SmartStop] came into it with Jure [Kocjan], who is also a great sprinter," McCabe said. "So a lot of the time I was working for him, making sure we could keep him up front and have him sprinting. I went for more of a leadout roll and transitioned over here where I could win.
"[Holowesko director Thomas] Craven saw that I had the speed and potential to do it, and instead of focusing on losing weight and trying to make it over the climbs, which I did last year, this year was focusing on the sprint.
"The team last year was awesome too," McCabe continued. "The abrupt stop was just from poor management and a few dishonest people. Making it over to the Holowesko team was one of the best moves I could have made."
Craven told Cyclingnews the decision to sign McCabe was an easy one after the team had been forced to compete against him for two seasons.
"We lost a guy last year to UHC, and so I had to fill that void," Craven said. "Travis is somebody we always had respect for and was a big pain in our ass, so what better way to get rid of somebody than to hire him. So we put him on the team, and he's performed well.
"Last year he was trying to be a GC guy or something, and that's something that can backfire on you," Craven said. "There's no reason to try and get fifth or sixth in a race.Let's try and win races that we're at. That's what we said early in the season and it's really worked out. We've had some near misses, and the confidence level is evident right now. The form is evident in the team, and when that happens it's almost like taking candy from a baby. It's a blast."
For McCabe, the team's cohesion and simply having fun on and off the bike is one of the main factors in the team's success.
"We have a lot of fun on the team," he said. "We're a team that will ride and die for each other, so it's not just one person that's getting all the success. I've been on the podium a lot, but so has Robin and Joe, and all the guys just really get behind us.
"Once the race s over we're really a family. So when we finish a race everyone is having fun. We're not stressing each other out. We're not arguing with each other ever. That's the secret to our success: we just have a really good time racing our bikes, and we come out and we want to win everyday."