Expectations Exceeded at Tour of Utah

Sun 11 Aug 2013

Michael Matthews won the XO Communications Sprint jersey at the Tour of Utah. The double stage winner moved into the sprint classification lead following stage two before ceding the distinctive purple jersey to Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) the following day. Having started the day three points behind Van Avermaet, Matthews bridged across to the early break and won both intermediate sprints, solidifying his hold on the Tour of Utah points jersey for the second straight year.

“I didn’t expect to come out of the Tour of Utah with two stage wins, one podium and the points jersey,” said Matthews. “I’ve been training well leading up to this. I have a fair big races coming up, so it’s a good time to be on good form. My mid-season training has been really good this year; it’s been better than in the last few years. I knew I was strong, but I didn’t know I had good race form. Hopefully I keep improving from here.”

The final stage offered up two major ascents in the second half of the 125km loop around Park City. A cagey bunch set a quick clip at the start of stage six as riders attacked and counter-attacked in attempt to get up the road. Wesley Sulzberger and Baden Cooke found their way into the move that looked to have staying power. As Matthews jumped across, Sulzberger dropped back. Eventually a lead group emerged that included Matthews, Cooke, Jakub Novak (BMC), Ted King (Cannondale), Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare), Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda), Martin Wesemann (MTN-Qhubeka), Jason McCartney (Bissell), Tyler Wren and Luis Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Tanner Putt and Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager), Joey Rosskopf and Joe Lewis (Hincapie Sportswer) and Alex Hagman (Jelly Belly).

“We thought there was a good chance the bunch would still be together for the first intermediate sprint,” noted Sport Director Matt Wilson. “The break went earlier than we anticipated but Matthews managed to get himself across with Cookie.”

“The first sprint was 32km into the race,” Matthews explained. “If I won the sprint and Greg didn’t get any points, I’d move into the lead. I saw an opportunity to go across to the break with a couple riders. I made it to the break, and I won the first sprint from there. I think we took BMC by surprise a little bit when I got into the move.”

The first category Wolf Creek Ranch and HC category Empire Pass awaited the field. The break hit the base of the first mountain pass with a 3’45 advantage over the peloton.

“I knew I had the jersey as long as Greg didn’t beat me in the second sprint or take points at the finish,” said Matthews. “I got a bit stressed after the first sprint when the time started to come down between the breakaway and the bunch. I was a little worried the advantage would get small enough that Greg could jump across, so I pushed the breakaway to consolidate our gap before the second intermediate sprint. In hindsight, I probably should have saved a little bit of energy for Empire Pass.”

Matthews handily won the second intermediate sprint, stretching his advantage over Van Avermaet to six points. Van Avermaet would need to win the stage to take back the jersey. With the sprints competition nearly sewn up, Matthews decided to give the stage win a go. On the lower slopes of the final climb, he distanced his breakaway companions and briefly led the race alone.

“I think the big surprise of the day for a lot of people was how well Matthews climbed on this stage to almost hang on over the top of the massive mountain,” said Wilson. “It was the biggest climb of the race, and he put in a fantastic effort.”

“There were a few accelerations in the break before it was just me and Mancebo at the bottom of Empire Pass,” said Matthews. “He attacked, and I was the only one that could follow. I rode with him from maybe one kilometre, but I decided I wanted to ride my own pace. I attacked him and got away alone. I lasted about three-quarters of the way up before it became too much.”

Back in the bunch, Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), tied on time with overnight race leader Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek), set a blistering pace up the mountain. His efforts resulted an elite selection that included Horner, Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp) and Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek). The quartert was short-lived with Danielson quickly powering away from the others.

Mancebo caught and passed Matthews. Danielson steadily made his way across to the Spaniard. Janier Acevdeo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) joined the leading duo on the descent while Matthews faded back before the summit. Danielson took the overall victory and happily allowed Mancebo and Acevedo to duke it out for the stage win.

The two-up sprint provided excitement for the large crowd in downtown Park City who were treated to a victory salute from Mancebo as his beat Acevedo to the line. Matthews crossed the finish line in 11th place, 1’39 behind the stage winner

“Knowing what I know now about the stage, I’m a bit disappointed to miss out on the stage win,” admitted Matthews. “I really went for it. I would have had a better chance if I had sat on the break and saved more energy for the last climb, but if I had done that, maybe Greg could have jumped across to us by himself and tried to take the sprint jersey off of me again.”

“It was a bit of gamble after the first sprint,” Matthews continued. “I could have saved it for the stage or committed everything to the sprint jersey. Because the team decided to focus on the jersey as our main ambition, I put all my energy there. I wish I had tried to save more for that last climb.”

Despite the mild disappointment over the missed opportunity for the stage win, it’s been a hugely successful week for the Australian outfit.

“Two stage wins and the sprint jersey was more than we set out to achieve,” said Wilson. “As far as preparation goes for the Vuelta and other late season races, the Tour of Utah was perfect. It was a great week of racing at high altitude.”

“We’re definitely glad we came to Utah,” Wilson added. “We’ll happily be back next year.”