Ben Hermans is familiar with the climb to Powder Mountain, having finished second on the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah stage that finished there in 2014. The Israel Cycling Academy leader went one better on Wednesday, finishing 20 seconds ahead of prologue winner James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS) on a stage that went 3km further and 300 metres higher than the 2014 route.
Hermans seized the race lead from EF Education First's Lawson Craddock for his troubles, and now leads Piccoli by 26 seconds overall, with Trek-Segafredo's Niklas Eg in third at 52 seconds.
"I knew I had to be in really good shape for this climb, because you can make a lot of time or lose a lot of time here," the 33-year-old Belgian said in the post-stage press conference. "I hoped for the best legs. I had a really good feeling on the climb, and so I'm happy I could take the win."
Hermans paced his effort well, riding his own tempo until it was time to attack, leaving Piccoli and Stetina behind as he climbed toward the win.
"Peter Stetina attacked quite hard, and I knew I just had to take it at my tempo and look at the other guys," he said. "I took my tempo until 4km to go. It was a little early to attack, but still I took my chance and I could directly take 20 seconds. From there, I knew the chance was big that I could win the stage, but it was still hard to get to the finish."
Hermans said he really suffered over the added final 3km.
"It was brutal, the last 3km," he said. "It was 300 metres higher, too, and I would have been happy if the finish had been at 2,400 metres instead. But also in 2014, we started straight from the bottom with a really hard tempo and everybody was on the limit already there. This year we did the first 4km more controlled, and like this I had to do the same effort, actually, but it was a little tougher going higher up in altitude."
Hermans finished second overall in Utah last year to Jumbo-Visma's Sepp Kuss, but he said it was difficult to compare his from this year to where he was at last year.
"It's difficult to compare the two years," he said. "Last year Sepp Kuss was really strong. I don't know if I could beat him this year if he was here in the same shape. My form was good last year and it's good this year. I'm leading this race now and I'll try to keep the jersey."
Hermans also said there's a simple reason why he excels in the Beehive State.
"You have the legs or you don't," he said. "You can handle the altitude or you can't. You can handle the heat our you can't. I'm really good in the altitude and in the heat. I think that's why I really like this race.
"It is really nice to win on this climb," Hermans continued. "I've been cycling for many years, and have ridden up the Kitzbüheler and Grossglockner climbs, dreaming of winning there. Last year I won on the Kitzbüheler [at the Tour of Austria] and this year I won on the Grossglockner, and now I've won here on Powder Mountain, so it's been two good years for me, and I'm really happy to have this on my palmarès."
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