WorldTour teams left empty handed so far at Tour of Utah

US domestic teams have claimed all five stage wins heading into big mountains

The WorldTour teams competing this week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah have had a tough go of it so far, with US domestic teams claiming all five stage wins and leaving the division-one squads empty handed with only two stages to go.

Kiel Reijnen of the Pro Continental UnitedHealthcare team took the stage 1 win and the first yellow jersey. He was followed in succession by stage winners Jure Kocjan (Team SmartStop), Logan Owen (Axeon Cycling), Eric Young (Optum Pro Cycling) and Young’s teammate Michael Woods, all Continental riders.

The race’s yellow jersey has gone from Reijnen to Kocjan and now rests on Woods’ shoulders heading into Saturday's Queen stage.

It’s been an impressive display from the US teams, who are obviously fired up to compete on a big stage in their home country, but they’ve also benefited from the fact that there are only three WorldTour teams in the race this year.

Trek Factory Racing’s Fränk Schleck said the US teams are obviously very motivated to race well this week.

“I think for the teams it’s a big chance,” he told Cyclingnews after the stage 5 finish in Salt Lake City. “It’s a big race and they are really motivated. And being local, of course it helps.”

Current overall leader and stage 5 winner Woods said the North American teams are “representing” at the race, pointing to fellow Continental rider and 2013 Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner as an example of division-one riders who may have underestimated the strength at the Continental level.

“Chris Horner started off the season thinking he was going to walk all over everybody, and I think that’s because riding at the WorldTour is really amazing, but the NRC level has really stepped up,” Woods said. “This year is such a deep year relative to other years, and it’s not surprising that we’re doing so well.”

Hincapie Racing’s Robin Carpenter, who came within a whisker of taking the overall lead during stage 4, said the strength of rosters that the WorldTour teams brought to the race is a little weaker than normal, but he also praised the way the Continental teams have been riding.

“The WorldTour teams came here with a little bit weaker rosters than normal,” Carpenter said. “You see a lot of stagiaires, and a couple of teams have less than eight riders, so I don’t think they’re necessarily here to control it. I think they’re here to be opportunists like everybody else.

“Continental riders prove pretty often that just because they’re Continental doesn’t mean they can’t win, especially against the big guns,” he said.

UnitedHealthcare’s Tanner Putt, a Utah resident who has helped lead Reijnen to multiple podium finishes, said he’s not at all surprised by the domestic teams’ success this week.

“It’s a home race for all the American riders, so they all come out really focusing on this time of year, whereas a lot of the bigger WorldTour teams have raced the Tour and raced the Giro,” Putt said. “They’re kind of coming to this at the end of the year just for racing.”

Putt said the WorldTour teams could continue to be surprised when the race hits the big mountains this weekend.

“There’s a lot of good climbers in the US, especially a lot of them have been at altitude for the last few months,” he said. “A lot of the WorldTour teams have been racing so much that they may have not had that much time at altitude. At the end of the week after racing six days, the altitude really builds up if you haven’t been acclimated to it.”

Optum director Jonas Carney said the number of WorldTour teams in the race and the strength of their rosters accounts for some of the domestic teams’ success.

“There’s not a lot of WorldTour teams here, there’s only three, and they didn’t bring their best teams for this,” Carney said. “So it’s a little bit light on the WorldTour power, but it’s still pretty cool to see the domestic teams, especially, the Continental teams, winning stages, wearing jerseys. To see all Continental riders on the podium [on Thursday] was pretty cool.”

Horner (Airgas-Safeway), who finished second here the past two years while riding at the WorldTour level, said it’s been an impressive race so far.

“It’s been good for the US guys, so North American races are getting good for the domestic teams to come in and win some races.”

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