It’s not uncommon in cycling for the breakaway to take it to the wire before the peloton closes in and shuts down the escapee’s dreams of stage glory, but Hincapie Racing’s Robin Carpenter had even more on the line than the stage victory during stage 4 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah on Thursday.
Carpenter started the day sixth overall, just eight seconds down on overall leader Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare). The 23-year-old, who won a stage of the USA Pro Challenge last year, said he picked stage 4 in particular this week as a day to shake things up in the breakaway.
So when the moves started to go up the road, Carpenter fought his way into the breakaway that finally stuck.
“I went out there knowing full well that I was going to get chased down and the gaps were going to be small,” Carpenter said. “I knew everyone else in the break was going to be a little upset with me, but I was going for the whole enchilada, you could say.”
The 10-second time bonus on the line at the stage finish could have lifted Carpenter into the race lead even if the peloton finished with the same time or near it. So the Hincapie rider had extra motivation to make the break work.
In the group with Carpenter were Ben King (Cannondale-Garmin), Tim Roe (Drapac), Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka), Daniel Eaton (Axeon), Nicola Tanovitchii (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) and Luis Lemus (Airgas-Safeway).
Reijnen’s team let the move with Carpenter go, but then held the gap around three minutes for most of the stage. When the leaders started going up the category 2 climb of Wolf Creek Pass, Team Colombia took up the chase, setting a pace that not only started bringing back the leaders but one that they hoped would shed the pure sprinters as well.
Carpenter and King pressed the pace to hold their gap, and the effort knocked Jim out of the group. He was soon replaced when Gregory Daniel (Axeon) bridged up, however, and the leaders went over the top of the climb with their 30-second gap intact and a fresh set of legs among their numbers.
“I knew the gap was being shut down by the Colombians,” Carpenter said. “I guess [Daniel] jumped across and came blowing by all of us. I thought it was [Axeon’s Eaton] for a second because he hadn’t been doing a ton of work on the climb and I yelled at him, but Kudos to Greg for getting up there.”
When the peloton came over the top of the climb, the Colombian team relinquished control of the chase, and the breakaway’s gap ballooned up to nearly two minutes. What had seemed like an impossible goal of staying away just a few kilometres earlier suddenly looked possible again.
“I was petty confused why the Colombians were chasing just to let it go out again,” Carpenter said. “I can’t really explain that.”
Despite the breakaway’s newfound enthusiasm, the teams behind were champing at the bit for a sprint, and the teams of the sprinters, most of whom were still in the peloton, found a new rhythm for the chase.
Carpenter’s dreams of a possible stage win and yellow jersey ended about 3.5km from the finish when the peloton swept up the escapees. Carpenter finished 29th on the stage with the same time as winner Eric Young (Optum Pro Cycling) and jumped to second overall, two seconds behind new race leader Jure Kocjan (Team SmartStop).
Carpenter came away with the race’s jersey for most aggressive rider, and he’s also the best young rider at the tour.
“It’s a bit of a consolation prize for today,” he said. “It’s always nice to have a jersey, you know, money in the bank, and it’s nice to get on the podium, especially at Tour of Utah, one of my favourite races.”