Rob Britton (Rally Cycling) may have lost nearly two minutes in the Tour of Utah's first GC mountain test on Wednesday during stage 2, but the 2017 overall champion was back on the attack on Thursday in a breakaway that made it inside 10km of the finish.
Britton struggled to stay with the leaders during Wednesday's climb over Mount Nebo and the ensuing descent to Payson for the finish, eventually coming in 15th on the day and losing 1:49 to stage winner and new overall leader Sepp Kuss (LottoNL-Jumbo). Rally's Kyle Murphy finished third on the stage and is fifth overall heading into stage 4.
Britton simply didn't have the legs to stay with the GC group on Wednesday as they tried in vain to chase down Kuss. It was a different story on Thursday, though, when he made it into a 10-rider break that held the peloton at bay until Britton and UnitedHealthcare's Jonny Clarke escaped the group on the five finishing circuits in Layton and almost stole one from the sprinters.
The escape came up just short, however, as the peloton swept up Britton and Clarke on the penultimate lap, with UnitedHealthcare's Travis McCabe taking the stage victory.
"I wish I'd had these legs yesterday," Britton said in the post-stage press conference.
"It wasn't really the plan for me to be in the break, but I felt great, so we were up there with about 10 or 11 of us," he said. "It was very, very disorganised for most of the day, so we were just 'putting' along there."
Britton's frustration with his breakaway companions was obvious throughout the stage as he tried to cajole them into working together cooperatively. The proper organisation never materialised, however, and with Britton just two minutes behind Kuss on the GC, the Canadian and his fellow escapees were never given much leash.
Britton's play didn't pay off with a stage win or time gained, but it allowed his teammates to sit in the bunch and save their energy for Friday's punchy Salt Lake City circuit race and the two daunting days in the mountains on Saturday and Sunday.
Murphy is positioned for a potential spot on the final podium, but during Wednesday's press conference following his third-place finish in Payson, Murphy said it would be unwise to discount Britton's chances.
"It's a pretty long race with some difficult days ahead, and I don't think you can really ever count that guy out," he said of Britton. "He's got a massive engine. I think we're in a pretty good position to maybe send him up the road, or something like that. I'm not counting him out. He's a complete monster. When he's on a good day, he's unstoppable."
But Britton said the team is now all-in for Murphy.
"Going into the weekend, we've got Kyle, and traditionally I ride pretty well on those two stages," he said. "The whole team is riding really well, and we're executing our plan each day, so I think we're in a really good position going into the weekend. We'll try to move Kyle up onto the podium by Sunday, and judging by the way he rode yesterday, I don't think that's a stretch."
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