Jacob Rathe is not really a climber. So when the Jelly Belly-Maxxis rider was asked in the post-race press conference if he ever imagined winning the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour of Utah, America's toughest stage race, he had a pretty succinct answer.
"Definitely not," was his simple response.
But he definitely did win the jersey, which is adorned with blue-and-white snowflakes symbolizing his climbs to some of Utah's winter skiing destinations.
Rathe took the jersey on stage 1 after infiltrating the early breakaway and claiming second place on both KOMs of the day. At the time, Rathe led Eder Frayre (Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling) by two points after the opening day.
During stage 2 from Brigham City to Snowbasin Resort, Rathe took third place on the first climb of the day, adding a few points to his tally and again leading his nearest rival by just two points.
Rathe could rest easy during the stage 3 time trial, and he got another reprieve during the romp around the high desert outside of South Jordan during stage 4, which included no classified climbs.
Rathe missed the all-important breakaway during stage 5 from Layton to Bountiful, but Bardiani CSF's Giulio Ciccone, who went on to win the Queen stage, helped Rathe's cause by taking maximum points on both categorized climbs. The Jelly Belly rider's 16 points won the day again, with climbing talent Sepp Kuss (Rally Cycling) pulling within one point.
During the queen stage on the sixth day, Rathe infiltrated a large breakaway that escaped in the opening kilometres, then he capitalised on the situation by taking second on the climb through American Fork Canyon behind solo leader Ruben Campanioni. Rathe's total of 25 points was one better than Ciccone's tally.
With stage 7 lacking any KOMs, all Rathe had to do was finish the Salt Lake City circuit to claim the final jersey. He finished 41st, 51 seconds behind Marco Canola (Nippo-Vini Fantini) to hold onto his blue-and-white prize.
"It was a goal of the team," Rathe said of the mountains jersey. "And personally I knew I could get it for a day or two. We saw that there were two climb-heavy stages to start the race.
"I got in the break, and the climbs suited me, and we knew if we got it then we had a chance," Rathe said. "I kept expecting to come across the line and have it gone, but twice I held onto it by one point. I wasn't expecting this, but the course was a little better suited for me this year to win the KOM than in years past, so I knew I had a chance."
Rathe is in his second season following a long recovery from Iliac artery surgery, and he said he's finally starting to feel whole again on bike.
"I've just been trying to feel good on the bike since I got surgery two years ago," Rathe said. "And then two years before that I had pretty bad symptoms with a blood flow issue in my artery.
"So last year was kind of a year coming back," he said. "The leg wasn't really strong yet, and it was kind of grumpy all the time. I'm definitely feeling better this year. This isn't really the extent of the results I want, the KOM jersey. There are other things I'm trying to do.
"But overall the trend is good, and I'm feeling almost normal," he said. "Being able to race hard and climb is not what I was able to do a few years ago, and so it feels good."