Thomas Danielson captures Tour of Utah title
At the end of a Tour of Utah in which the yellow jersey switched chests like a climber shifts gears, Francisco Mancebo emerged from 16th place overall to grab the stage win in the finale on Main Street Sunday. Mancebo ripped through the final push up to Heber Avenue, while Janier Alexis Acevedo drafted to second place. American Thomas Danielson sneaked into third place in the final stage to claim the yellow jersey that marks him as the cycling tour’s overall winner.
The 78-mile circuit around the Jordanelle Reservoir Sunday capped six stages of mountainous racing that spanned 586 miles and climbed 43,000 feet.
"We wanted to get the GC (general classification, or overall winner) selected day by day," said Steve Miller, the tour’s president. "They have to race all week long to win the Tour of Utah."
Minutes after the lead group finished, riders came straggling in alone or in groups of two or three, quads shredded from the 10-kilometer climb up Empire Pass. The scattered racers smiled as they finished the six-day trek through the state.
The past week of professional bike racing, which brimmed with tactics and technical adjustments, played out on Sunday in Team Garmin-Sharp’s long drafting lines and the mechanical fixes on the descent from Wolf Creek Ranches into the Heber Valley. Once Danielson reached Empire though, he threw out the playbook.
"I knew we had to make it super hard if we had a shot at Chris (Horner)," Danielson said. "I knew I had to take everyone to their limits."
"Today no amount of tactics could help," Horner added, after securing his place as runner-up in the general classification. "Danielson was the best guy on the climb for sure. At altitude he had more punch than me."
The climb didn’t start that way. After Michael Matthews cruised at nearly 25 mph across the final sprint line, winning his second sprint of the day to clinch the XO Communications Sprint Jersey, the dash for the tour’s finish began.
Mancebo, who ground his gears to a solo King of the Mountain win at the Wolf Creek Ranches ascent, launched a breakaway on the climb up to Empire Pass. Matthews, the sprinter, shocked his competitors on the climb by clinging to Mancebo’s tough pace. The peloton closed to 2:20 behind the leaders.
Then the chase groups deteriorated, leaving their once-compact drafting lines strung out on the 10 percent grade. The two groups, of seven and five riders, sunk into the peloton, led by Chris Horner and the rest of Team Garmin-Sharp.
Up ahead, Matthews somehow pressed harder. He dropped Mancebo.
From there, Danielson owned one of America’s steepest climbs.
"You just fry yourself," Danielson said, describing his mental struggle. "It would have been easy for me to just sit back and hang on, but I owed it to myself to take the bull by the horns."
With less than fifteen miles to go, Danielson catapulted past the peloton and past Mancebo to catch the fading Matthews and reach the top alone.
Mancebo said he had almost reached the top when Danielson passed him, but stayed focused on his chances in the downhill.
"I was being conservative on the descent." Danielson said. In the battle with the two stage leaders, he added, "I definitely wasn’t going to get in their way for contesting the stage."
Mancebo plummeted down the mine road, reaching 70 m.ph. and almost catching his wheel as he pulled past Danielson, then dueled Acevedo — who slipped out from nowhere — around the final turn at the base of Main Street. Danielson followed seconds later.
Even after trailing the leaders on both of Sunday’s climbs, Australian Michael Torkler slipped on the King of the Mountains jersey for his early breakaway efforts. Mancebo donned the orange "Most Aggressive Rider" jersey, reflecting the tenacity he showed up two lonely ascents.
Team Radio Shack-Leopard-Trek, which flooded the top 11 slots with four riders, claimed the overall team win.
Lachlan David Morton, a 21-year-old rider who fought hard up the climbs, captured the best young rider jersey. Park City native Tanner Putt finished eighth in the young rider classification and 49th overall.
Injured at the beginning of the tour, before most Utahns knew his name, Danielson said he rode a mental race, fighting his doubts and finding purpose behind racing.
"It’s a lot of work; it’s a lot of suffering; it’s a lot of injuries," he said, summing up the unpredictable week. "We put up with the knee surgery, the calf tears, the crashes, just to get that one moment. That’s who we are as professional cyclists."
This week’s chaos ended in a 70 mph rush down Ontario Canyon to Main Street and a flash across the finish line. On the podium, Danielson’s reward for all the pain, his moment of bliss, looked as fleeting as the spray of champagne from his celebratory bottle. Just as sweet, too.
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