Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) secured the most prestigious win in his career at stage one of the UCI 2.1 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah on Wednesday. The New England native is hoping that a series of strong performances and the right focus and training will lead to a future of full-time racing in Europe.
Anthony previously won the overall at the Nature Valley Grand Prix in June, and before that scored the overall victory in the Danish Festningsrittet stage race in 2010, but this was his top throw-your-arms-up win since his 2004 cyclo-cross national championship.
"I can't believe it," Anthony told Cyclingnews. "We've worked so hard for this all year and it was a full team effort again just like Nature Valley Grand Prix. I want to give all the glory to God because he gave me the strength and the wisdom. I took off with a lap and half to go thinking that it was the dumbest suicide move and I just wanted to go race my bike. You can try 100 times and 99 times it won't work, and one time it did. I thought it was stupid, but it worked."
The 182.9 kilometer stage one circuit race was held on three laps of a grueling loop that included a steep ascent over North Ogden Pass. Anthony rode solo over the final climb and was caught by a small lead group on the descent down to the finish line. The riders who caught him were race leader Sergio Henao and Oscar Sevilla (Gobernacion de Antioquia) and Levi Leipheimer and Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack). The five riders made it to the finish line two and half minutes ahead of the next group. Anthony out-paced the five-man sprint to the line to take the stage victory and is currently sitting in fourth place overall heading into stage two.
Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth was disappointed not to receive an invitation to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge held from August 22-28 in Colorado. The team turned its attention to the Tour of Utah in hopes of finding success in breakaways and stage results. The event upgraded to UCI 2.1 status this year, which, turned up the level of competition when promoters invited ProTeams HTC-Highroad, RadioShack, Liquigas-Cannondale, Garmin-Cervelo and BMC Racing.
"I definitely like racing harder races that are at a higher caliber, races of attrition, and this race will be super hard," Anthony said. "I did this race in 2006 and it is way different course. I think the race is wide open until the last day. The time gaps were small after the short prologue and there are no massive power squads that are going to ride tempo all day. There are a lot of other strong teams like PureBlack, RealCyclist and our team that are going to be able to make the racing really hard. The rest of the racing is going to be really aggressive with lots of breakaways, attacks, groups going up the road and coming back and reshuffling. That is a good style of racing for my team because we like to be really aggressive and hunt for moves."
His season has not gone unnoticed placing second at the Tour of Battenkill along with two second place stage finishes at the Nature Valley Grand Prix where he won the overall title. He attributes his success this season to a new-found structure of training and racing during his calendar year. He is a reputable cyclo-cross contender, but decided early this season that road racing was where he wanted to put all of his dedication. Instead of racing cyclo-cross this fall, he will focus on recovering for the next road season, when he hopes to see a marked improvement.
"After last year, I decided to focus on the road," Anthony said. "I saw some good potential in my road racing and I won a couple of races. I want to take the next step in road racing and get to racing in Europe full time. I figured that in order to do that I would have to give up ‘cross and take a real off season to prepare properly."
Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth will next compete at the USA Pro Criterium Championships held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They will then head to Europe for the Grand Prix des Marbriers in France, Schaal Sels in Belgium along with several other events. The team will return stateside to compete at the Univest Grand Prix in September.