Young riders show future promise
The Tour of Utah instills fear in seasoned cyclists with its 43,000 feet of elevation gain, but few riders have higher to ascend than the young prospects set against the race’s 16 Olympians and its pack of international tour veterans.
On Sunday, Australian Lachlan David Morton of Team Garmin-Sharp donned the light blue Best Young Rider jersey, awarded to the rider under 23 with the lowest cumulative time.
"It’s cool racing a field of this caliber, especially in America," Morton said before Stage Six. "You’ve just got to see this as an opportunity. Whenever you get the chance to race big guys, you’ve got to show yourself."
Morton rode out of obscurity in Stage Three. The young climber broke from the leaders on the Category One ascent up Mount Nebo. After strong performances in Stage Five and Six climbs, Morton finished seventh in the King of the Mountain standings.
On the morning of the final stage, the Black and Red Bontrager team bus spilled out its development team, composed of riders under 23, into an alcove beside the China Bridge Parking lot. The energetic group, wearing shirts emblazoned with #ProveIt, tossed a football around.
"It’s for sure the hardest race of America," Nate Brown of team Bontrager said before the tour’s last ride.
"It’s cool to race with the guys you watch on TV," said Gavin Mannion, who finished 16th overall and second to Morton in the Young Rider classification. "It makes it kind of fun, even though you’re suffering."
Bontrager’s playful camaraderie showed a practical side as the team battled the top riders over the Category Two Wolf Creek Ranches ascent and up to Empire Pass, one of America’s toughest climbs. "Having a good team is crucial on a day like today," Mannion said.
His team includes local rider Tanner Putt, who grew up and trained in Park City. After pushing hard with teammate Jasper Stuyven of Belgium in the early breakaway, Putt finished 49th overall. Although his strength comes from sprinting, he held on through the climbs.
"It’s awesome," Putt said as he stepped back onto Swede Alley. "I’m really excited."
"It’s great to be racing on the roads I train on every day," said Connor O’Leary, a Salt Lake City native. Putt, Stuyven and O’Leary rounded out eighth, ninth and tenth place respectively in the race for Best Young Rider.
Putt said the team’s strategy was to push Mannion through the stage. "We’ll try to keep him safe and at the front," he said before Bontrager’s eight riders set off.
In his last ride with the team, Mannion came up just short of the light blue jersey, but these riders face a long, open road.
The next time Putt leaves Park City, he could be headed for international tours, or the end of that open road — a race like the Tour de France.
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Park City is the lone undefeated team in Region 10 play after a 60-30 win over Mountain View. The Miners have three more region games in their quest to repeat as region champions.