Cannondale-Drapac came into the 2016 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah with the stated goal of supporting defending champion Joe Dombrowski in the team's bid to win a fourth consecutive title in the seven-day 2.HC race.
That goal took a major beating on Wednesday during stage 3 when Dombrowski lost nearly four minutes to the lead trio of Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly-Maxxis), Adrien Costa (Axeon Hagens Berman) and Dombrowski's teammate Andrew Talansky. Dombrowski finished in the third group, 3:57 back and now trails Morton in the overall by 4:07, while Talansky is just nine seconds back.
"I'm probably a little far down to be in there for GC, but we'll see," Dombrowki told Cyclingnews after the stage. "I don't know exactly where everyone finished. There'll be some flexibility, so we'll see. I'm not too worried."
Talansky got away with stage winner Morton and runner-up Costa on the lower slopes of the climb over Mt. Nebo. The trio peeled away from the rest of the GC riders and then worked together to build a gap of more than a minute over the chasers as they started the long descent to the finish in Payson.
Morton sneaked away in the final kilometres and won by three seconds over Talansky and Costa, while the chase group of four that included BMC's Darwin Atapuma, Joey Rosskopf, and TJ Eisnenhart, as well as Rally Cycling's Rob Britton, finished 1:22 back.
"Coming in to that last kilometre, kilometre and a half, I mean you think somebody might attack," Talansky said at the post-stage press conference.
"I was suffering a little bit in the heat and I was hoping I could pull off a little bit of a sprint in the end. Lachlan made a big move and obviously neither myself or Adrien could close it. He 100 per cent deserved the win. Up the climb early on I think he was the strongest one, and it's fitting that he got the stage."
Although he didn't get the stage win, Talansky showed his own impressive strength on Mt. Nebo, and Wednesday's result clearly puts him in the Cannondale-Drapac driver's seat.
"Obviously we came in with a plan for me to support Joe," he said at the post-stage press conference. "But plan B, we still want to win stages of this race and we still want to win the race overall, so I do think that will shift the focus a bit. That said, I have no doubt that Joe can win one of the stages coming this weekend."
The Tour of Utah's general classification is always decided over the final two days, when riders tackle the Saturday Queen stage climbs over Guardsman Pass and Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, then the final day sees the peloton go up and over Empire Pass, arguably the toughest climb in US racing.
Dombrowski won the Snowbird stage last year and took over the race lead there, then defended his lead over Empire Pass to beat Optum's Michael Woods by 50 seconds and BMC's Brent Bookwalter by 1:05.
"He's the defending champion and he's an incredible rider," Talansky said of his teammate, who will ride in support of Talansky at the upcoming Vuelta a Espana.
"Honestly, on his day, and I've said this before, I don't think there's anybody, especially at altitude, when he's at his absolute best who can climb with him."
Now, in one of those twists of fate that cycling is so fond of delivering, Dombrowski could get a rehearsal this weekend for his role in Spain later this month.