The team rode together through one final day of high altitude climbing at the Tour of Utah, delivering Mike Woods to second place on the overall standings. The seven days of UCI 2.HC ranked racing in Utah rise to the top of the list of palmares in the Circuit Sport program’s nine year history. A victory for sprinter Eric Young in stage four, a victory and yellow jersey for Woods in stage five, second place for Woods in stage six, and second overall on general classification, coming against some of the world’s top teams, all add up to an unprecedented week for a continental-ranked program.
“It was a phenomenal week for the team,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “We started out slow – we thought Young could win one of the first few sprint stages, but we struggled through them and we were a little down after three days. Then, the guys just cranked it up. It’s by far the best we’ve ever done at a race of this level and we are ecstatic.”
The plan for the team on the Park City Circuit, with a massive summit on Empire Pass, was similar to its attempted jersey defense on stage six. The Orange & Black would keep Woods safe and positioned for the final climb, and reel in dangerous breakaways in the hopes of setting him up for another stage win, or perhaps stage a coup on the yellow jersey.
“We doubted that Woods could just ride away from Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) and close down his 50 second gap to take back yellow,” said Carney. “We know Woods is explosive and can out-sprint most climbers in an uphill finish. We thought it would be a great stage for him to get over the top with a few other guys, and then try to beat them at the line.”
With a large breakaway’s gap rapidly increasing, Woods’ Orange & Black support system hit the gas. They drove the pace, and the UnitedHealthcare team joined in the chase to send the gap plummeting. It set things up perfectly for the final fight on Empire Pass.
“The problem today was that a dangerous breakaway went up the road with no riders that were a threat to Dombrowski’s jersey in it,” said Carney. “That meant the Cannondale-Garmin team wasn’t going to get on the front and chase it back, and someone from the breakaway could win the stage. That’s why we put our team on the front to manage the gap.”
In what became a familiar sight in Utah this week, Woods found himself at the head of race. Dombrowski, Trek Factory Racing’s Frank Schleck, and a who’s who of the races best climbers. From there, it was up to him to drive the pace in the hopes of shaking Dombrowski loose.
“I felt strong going into the climb, mostly because the guys rode exceptionally well,” said Woods.
Woods climbed furiously, checking over his shoulder repeatedly at Dombrowski, who was able to hold the Canadian’s stiff pace.
“I wanted to drop Joe, that was my first goal. I tried a few accelerations, and I could tell he wasn’t shaking. After trying to drop him several times and not seeing him flail at all, I knew if I really went after it, I ran the risk of blowing up myself and losing my position on the overall standings and giving away an opportunity for a stage win. Once I realized that, I tried to just keep the pace high and stay in good position for the finish.”
A clever attack on the descent by BMC Racing’s Brent Bookwalter shook things up in the lead group. Lachlan Norris (Drapac Professional Cycling) bridged across, and the pair held their gap to the line, with Norris winning the sprint. Woods stopped some hearts in the sharp final turn with an unexpected crash. The rules of professional racing give riders who crash near the finish the same time as their original group – Woods’ second place overall finish was safe, and he was left with surface wounds and perhaps a bit of damaged pride for his bold efforts.
For Woods and his teammates, the race will be remembered as an testament to the considerable teamwork that makes individual success in the sport possible. It further solidifies Woods’ status as one of the world’s top climbers, and the ability of the Orange & Black to race against the world’s top teams.
“I know in a couple days I am going to be really happy with what we did,” said Woods. “It’s by far my best performance a stage race and a huge display of our team’s strength. I’m not super satisfied because I wanted that stage win and to make a run at getting the yellow jersey back. That’s OK. Joe was just a better rider this week.”
Women’s Team Open La Route de France With Prologue Podium
Not content with the men’s team’s successful Utah campaign, the women kicked off the top stage race of their European campaign, La Route de France, with a podium for Brianna Walle in the 3 km opening prologue and three riders in the top ten. Leah Kirchmann and Jasmin Glaesser finished high on the standings, in 6th and 10th place, respectively. Walle’s time in the short opener in Enghien les Bains was just three seconds shy of Amy Pieters’ (Team Liv – Plantur) winning time of 3:40.
Performance Director Patrick McCarty reported on the solid start to the French stage race.
“Today was a nice start for our team. We had Brie on the podium, 3 riders in the top 10 and everyone else very close to the top riders. It was a technical, 3km course in the suburbs of Paris. The race was very well attended by the world’s top teams and had lots of spectators in a great venue. We knew our riders would all do well today, and we had no mishaps. Even though we are sitting is great position in the overall, we have a lot of work to do in the upcoming stages to improve our standings and go for stage wins. Everyone is fit and healthy, and all is well. We are looking forward to a hard race in France.”
La Route de France continues with stage one, a 118 km, mostly flat race from Villemandeur to Bourges.