EF Education First's Lawson Craddock and Alex Howes left no stone unturned in trying to win stage 3 at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah on Thursday, animating the final hilly circuits in North Salt Lake but coming up just short on the stage won by overall race leader Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy).
Howes made it into a breakaway that didn't take hold until 80km into the 138.3km stage, and then stuck with the move until just before starting the final 11.2km circuit, where his teammate Craddock bridged up with Rally UHC's Kyle Murphy.
Howes immediately went to the front and buried himself to pull the move further away from the field and set up Craddock for the win, then sat up and ended up finishing nearly four minutes down.
Craddock and Murphy continued on alone, but the chase-group, led by Hermans and GC podium riders James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS) and Niklas Eg (Trek-Segafredo), was closing fast. Craddock attacked and dropped Murphy, but his time off the front ended quickly, as Hermans attacked with 1km to go, catching Craddock just before the crest and soloing in for the win. Murphy recovered and finished seven seconds later for second, followed by Eg.
Craddock got sixth on the stage behind Keegan Swirbul (Worthy Pro Cycling) and Piccoli, but not for lack of trying to take the stage win.
"We wanted to race our bikes and race them hard," Craddock said in the post-stage press conference. "It was great work in the beginning by all of us.
"In the end, Alex made a veteran move and was able to get into the break, which allowed the rest of us to have a free ride. You know that when the break takes with 80km to go there are going to be a lot of tired legs, especially after basically a 45-minute time trial [on Wednesday to the top of Powder Mountain]. I was pretty beat up, and I'm sure a lot of guys were feeling it."
Howes said the opening part of the stage was flat and very, very fast.
"You could tell a lot of people wanted to be in the breakaway," he said. "Our team, in particular – we wanted to put a little pressure on Israel Cycling Academy. You know – to make sure Ben was really up to snuff to hold onto the jersey, and he certainly seems to be.
"I found myself in the breakaway, and once I was up there I thought, 'Well, I'm going to be out here for a while and it's going to hurt really bad, so I might as well have this fancy shirt for it,'" said the recently crowned US road race champion.
Craddock, who is currently ninth overall, 3:14 off the overall lead, said his late attack was purely an attempt at the stage win and not to try to gain time in the general classification. EF Education First has Joe Dombrowski sitting sixth overall at 2:04.
"I'm still in the top 10 overall, but I'm almost a minute behind the next guy," Craddock said. "At this point, we really wanted the stage win. We were originally hoping the break would have a big enough gap to make it to the line, but you just have to adapt to these kind of situations. Alex again did a great job, really showing his leadership and willingness to work for others. Once I got up there, he sold himself out completely."
Selling out for his teammates
Craddock was effusive about Howes' teamwork, crediting the 31-year-old with forgetting his own ambitions to show off his national champion's jersey and choosing to work for others instead.
But Howes was having none of it.
"I saw Lawson was coming up, and I was thinking, 'Oh, this is the best situation we could have,'" Howes said. "I was feeling pretty good at that point, but pretty much as soon as he caught us, I realised how tired I was. My goose was kind of cooked.
"Sorry bud," Howes said, addressing Craddock on the press conference dais.
Craddock shot back that Howes nearly dropped him on the first climb.
"Imagine how it would have been if my goose wasn't cooked," Howes shot back.
"Lawson's a great dude," he continued. "I don't want to rag on him too much. But he's never won a pro race before, and we're really trying to get that here. We tried hard on the first stage, and we tried hard today. But we've been knocking on that door. It's been second and then fifth. First is right around the corner somewhere. We're just looking for that corner."
When things got serious again, Craddock said the team has not thrown in the towel on the general classification, and that they're going to continue to race aggressively for stage wins, with one eye on the overall.
"I think it was a good balance coming into this race," he said. "Obviously if Joe had won yesterday, things would be a bit different. We are an American team, and it's not very often we get a chance to race in America, so any time we do, we want to race, and we want to race hard. If you don't race to win, you're not going to win anything, and I think that's the mentality that we've had every day now, and that's the mentality we'll have moving forward."
Leadville Trail 100
Howes and teammate Lachlan Morton rode in the Leadville Trail 100 ultra endurance mountain bike race on August 10, two days before the Utah prologue. Asked if he thought the Leadville hurt his and Morton's performances in Utah, Howes said he didn't think it made a difference one way or another.
"It definitely hurt getting moving in the prologue," he said. "I was still a little crusty. It was 100 miles over 10,000 feet on a mountain bike. That does funny things to your body. But I'd say no. I've been pleasantly surprised. It's been a bit of a wash. I feel great here. If anything, it's sort of brought our names a little higher towards the top of people's lists. We're getting more cheers out there, so that certainly helps."