Mt. Nebo Begins General Classification Sorting at Tour of UtahThu 8 Aug 2013
Wesley Sulzberger was the top finisher for ORICA-GreenEDGE on stage three of Tour of Utah. The Tasmanian spent the day alongside Baden Cooke in a 20 rider lead group that shattered over Mt. Nebo. Part of the second chase group by stage end, Sulzberger crossed the line in 27th place, 3’24 behind stage winner Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp).
Overnight race leader Michael Matthews lost contact with the peloton on the lower slopes of the category one climb, ultimately losing 16’19 to Morton on the stage. Crossing the line alone, with 34” on a group of 20 chasers, Morton assumes the race lead thanks to his winning ride.
“Today unfolded mostly the way we expected,” said Sport Director Matt Wilson. “If the climb was easy enough for Matthews to get over, he would have been there. In the end, all the GC guys came out to play. We knew if that happened, he wouldn’t hang on. There was nothing else we could have done today.”
Aware that losing the yellow jersey was a likely outcome on stage three, the Australian outfit was reluctant to assume control of the race from the start. Without a team instilling order to the peloton, chaos underscored the early action.
“There was a lot of attacking at the start,” said Sulzberger. “We weren’t really controlling, so there were a lot of big groups slipping away. We thought it would be handy if one of us got into the break. We followed wheels without initiating anything and quite easily Baden and I ended up in the 20 man move.”
The large escape group opened up a sizeable gap immediately. With most of the general contenders having missed the split, their teams were forced to keep the frontrunners on a short leash. Initially, the move looked promising for ORICA-GreenEDGE.
“It was perfect at first because we had two guys there, and we didn’t really have to do anything in the break because we had the yellow jersey,” Sulzberger explained. “It was up to the other guys to keep things rolling.”
“Unfortunately, it got really negative about halfway through the stage,” Sulzberger continued. “There were only about six guys working out of the 20 in the group. Everyone kept letting wheels go, which opened up gaps. It seemed like we were always chasing. It was constantly stopping and starting most of the day after that. It became really taxing to the legs as well. “
RadioShack-Leopard-Trek combined forces with MTN-Qhubeka at the head of affairs. Their efforts held the break around the three minute mark. The gap fell slightly on the build-up to Mt. Nebo, and by the time the escapees reached the lower slopes of the climb, they had less than two minutes on their chasers.
“We knew it was important to be well-positioned after that last intermediate sprint,” said Sulzberger. “We wanted to be in a good spot up the little climb before the KOM in case someone attacked early. Baden and I kept to the front as much as we could. Baden helped me with my position. Once we started to climb, it was pretty much everyone for themselves.”
Cooke came unglued from the break as the pace began to rise. Sulzberger found himself in the first chase group that took shape as a Ben King (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek), Chris Jones (Bissell) and Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) forged ahead as the leading trio.
Morton jumped away from the field and quickly bridged his way across the gap and beyond the remnants of the early breakaway. Two kilometres from the summit, Morton made contact with King and Jones, who had dropped Craddock. He worked with them for a few minutes before deciding he was better off on his own.
The peloton shrunk in Morton’s wake. By the time the general classification group reached Sulzberger, Matthews had long ago fallen off pace and less than 30 riders remained remotely in contention for the stage victory. Riders struggled to stay in contact with the group as the road continued to ramp up to the summit of Mt. Nebo. Seven kilometres away from the KOM line, Sulzberger came unglued. Although he would never regain contact with the first chase group, he fought hard to keep the second chase group within reach.
“I’m a little bit disappointed I didn’t make it over with the main group when the bunch caught me,” said Sulzberger. “It would have been nice to make it to the KOM with the peloton, but I couldn’t quite scramble over with them. Lachie Morton stayed away in the end, but I didn’t know he was going to hold them off – and if he hadn’t, I wanted to be there at the pointy end so I could give it a go in the sprint.”
“I know Wes is disappointed he couldn’t be one group in front of where he was, but he did a really good job today,” said Wilson. “He had been in the breakaway and did a lot of good work there. Maybe if he hadn’t done that, he would have been one group further forward, but at the end of the day, it’s not a big deal. We’re not here for GC; we’re here for stage wins.”
The peloton lines up for a circuit race in Salt Lake City on Friday. The short but challenging circuit takes in the Utah State Capitol, University of Utah, the governor’s mansion and Brigham Young’s House. Each of the five laps include an 11 percent climb that could blow apart the race.
“We picked out the Salt Lake City stage as one of our big targets right at the beginning of the race,” said Wilson. “We’re definitely aiming to win the stage.”