Up until Saturday’s queen stage to Snowbird Resort, Israel Cycling Academy’s Ben Hermans was having a fairly quiet Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. He finished fifth on the third stage that included the climb over Mount Nebo, where LottoNL-Jumbo’s Sepp Kuss soloed to the stage win and into the yellow jersey, and sat just outside the top 10 in 11th going into the Snowbird stage, 42 seconds behind the young American.
Hermans was confident that he could climb up the general classification, and climb he did, finishing second to Kuss at Snowbird and reaching the second spot in the general classification, passing previous runner-up Nielson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo) and BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen, who started the day in third. Hermans also climbed past a trio of EF Education First-Drapac riders in the GC, as well as Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing).
Hermans was part of the general classification group that rode to the bottom of the final climb on Saturday with only non-GC threat Kilian Frankiny (BMC Racing) up the road. The EF Education First-Drapac trio of Mike Woods, Joe Dombrowski and Hugh Carthy launched a series of attacks, but Kuss fought them all off, then set off on a solo move of his own.
Once Kuss opened up a gap, Hermans attacked from the group and set off in pursuit.
“When I went behind the leader, I just wanted to be in the front of the race,” Hermans said. “But I saw quickly that some of my rivals were already in trouble, and I didn’t feel the legs yet. But that feeling only lasted for five to 10 minutes.”
Hermans started to close the gap to Kuss, eventually pulling within 10 metres of the young American before Kuss surged again, ending Hermans’ hopes of catching him and battling for the stage win. From there, it was matter of preserving his second-place finish on the long climb to Snowbird.
“I was just between the leader and the chasing group, and with this altitude you never can recover or you have to stop pedaling for a minute,” Hermans said. “So just like the guy in front and the rest of the field, I had to struggle my way up that mountain for the remaining 6km.
“That is really not a nice feeling, even if you are riding well in second place,” he said. “But you suffer 20 minutes more and you are awarded a nice second place that I have to be happy with.”
Focused on Empire Pass
Hermans finished 39 seconds behind Kuss, enough to lift him to second overall, now 1:21 behind the LottoNL-Jumbo rider. Dombrowski is now third, 2:05 back. There is just one more major obstacle in the race, the daunting climb of Empire Pass near the end of Sunday’s final stage in Park City, and Hermans is hoping to climb to the top step of the podium like he did at the Tour of Austria last month.
“There is still one day to go, and it’s not an easy one,” Hermans said. “But we really have to hope for a bad day for Kuss. Otherwise we just have to defend second place.”
Sunday’s 126km stage 6 starts in Park City and features the category 2 climb through Wolf Creek Ranch and the hors category Empire Pass climb, which tops out just 8.8km from the finish. A fast, technical descent into Park City finishes off the race and will crown the final overall winner of the 2018 Tour of Utah.
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