It's not often in cycling that a team's game plan lasts past the opening hostilities, but Holowesko-Citadel came close to perfection during stage 1 at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, propelling Ty Magner to the stage win and the first yellow jersey, while general classification hopeful TJ Eisenhart spent an easy day in the peloton.
On a long, hot, dry day with two classified climbs, the team put Andre Krasilnikau in the breakaway, watched as their rivals worked throughout the stage to bring the escapes back with less than 10km to go, and then took a chaotic sprint in Logan with a two-man train that included Magner and John Murphy.
"Our goal at Holowesko-Citadel was to get in the breakaway and put as much pressure as we could on all the other teams so we didn't have to be at the front and pull," Magner said in the post-race press conference.
"We as a team were able to sit back and watch all these other teams stay at the front working, and we saved all our bullets for the finishing circuits, and basically John Murphy gave me an incredible lead out coming out of the final corner."
The lead up to the two 3.1km closing circuits in Logan was contested on wide roads that made for a chaotic, hard-to-control finale. Magner and lead-out man Murphy were separated as the chaos ensued, but they came back together just in time for Murphy to launch Magner into the winning sprint.
"I was able to bomb the last corner just right in front of Ty, and it was pretty spot on from there," Murphy said.
"I took the turn out of the last corner and I started the sprint," Murphy said. "He came around me and was super strong, so it was great. It was kind of a textbook lead out for us. We didn't take control, but we knew we had to be in very good position in that last corner and had speed so that anybody who was jamming the corner couldn't come back. I made sure that was the case, and Ty finished it off beautifully."
While Krasilnikau, Murphy and Magner were taking care of business at the head of the race, Eisenhart and 2016 stage winner Carpenter were saving energy in the bunch, conserving for the upcoming stages.
"This is beyond awesome, dude," Eisenhart told Cyclingnews in the finishing straight. "We were all racing really well today, really calm, just hanging out conserving energy all day, and the plan was to keep myself, Ty and John just chill the whole day – me for GC and those two for the sprint today.
"We were all together, joking around and having a good time," Eisenhart said. "Ty was even shaking his booty out there. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of good times. This is amazing."
Before the race started, Eisenhart said he believed Holowesko was the strongest, smartest team in the race. The US Continental team backed him up on stage 1.
"I think a lot of people – just because we're Conti – discount us all the time," he said. "They're definitely paying attention now. It's pretty wicked. I mean Ty now has yellow, so that's a pretty cool little prize. Hopefully we'll keep it. Oh, man, that was so wicked sick, man."
Eisenhart's turn to shine the spotlight on Holowesko could come as soon as Tuesday, as the stage 2 run from Brigham City to Snowbasin Resort offers the first summit finish of the race.
Magner admitted that he doesn't expect to be in yellow after stage 2, and could instead find himself on the front for the rest of the week if Eisenhart delivers on the final climb. Eisenhart said he's taking a huge boost from Magner's stage 1 win.
"It's great for me, and it really motivates me even more," he said. "You see the guys get a stage win, and it kind of motivates you to get a stage win. This is great for morale and it's good for all the other guys as well. It brings everyone up to even another level. You see it all the time in a stage race. The guys win the first stage and then their team goes on to winning many more."
Meanwhile, the team will take a few moments to enjoy Magner's stage win before looking ahead to the rest of the week.
"It takes pressure off for the entire week," Magner said. "Like I said earlier, we have TJ Eisenhart here and Robin Carpenter. TJ can win the whole race overall, and Robin is always aggressive looking for stage wins. So I think you'll be seeing us the rest of the week.
"This is huge," Magner said. "I was telling my directors that I can't remember the last road race I won. We race so many crits around here, and I love racing crits, but I had to do a big training block in Park City just to make it over these climbs, and to win a super long, hilly, challenging road race means a lot."
For team director Thomas Craven, the win validated his approach to the race and the season.
"We spent the time at altitude," he said. "All these guys have been training for it and leading toward this block of racing, and this is a testament to what we've been doing all year.
"Morale is high on our team. It always is," he said. "So I think that sort of played into my hands today. Ty and Murph have been focusing on this stage, and the other stages go more for Robin and TJ. So, yeah, freaking awesome."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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