Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies’ Mike Woods delivered another great performance in stage six of the Tour of Utah, finishing second on the grueling 177.7 km route from Salt Lake City to Snowbird. The race’s queen stage lived up to its name with four categorized climbs, two landing within the first 30 km of racing. With Woods entering the stage in the yellow jersey, it was up to the Orange & Black to control the race and keep dangerous breakaways in check while delivering Woods to the final push – a category one summit atop Guardsmen’s Pass and an HC rated climb to the finish in Snowbird.
“The plan was to get over the first two climbs with as many guys as possible to help Woods,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “We brought quite a few sprinters and leadout guys to Utah, so it certainly wasn’t guaranteed that we would have numbers coming over the top of the second climb, but the guys stepped up huge. Everybody made it and they set up on the front and started riding hard.”
A strong breakaway of 12 riders was the carrot for the team to chase. The team kept the gap in a manageable range until the Airgas-Safeway and Drapac teams added fuel to the fire to close it down for good. Woods made it to the base of Guardsmen’s Pass in good position, and began his work in an elite group of the race’s best climbers and overall contenders. Canonndale-Garmin’s Joe Dombrowski was the strongest rider on the day, riding solo to the stage win and taking the overall lead away from Woods.
“My sensations weren’t great today – I didn’t feel fantastic, but having the team ride for me the way they did was awesome and it drove me to push on,” said Woods. “Going into the final climb, I didn’t have great legs but I thought if I gave it a big effort I had a chance. Dombrowski was just the better man today – he was way stronger. I still came in second, our third podium in three days, which is a huge success for the team, but it’s always disappointing to lose yellow.”
Woods now sits 50 seconds behind Dombrowski on the overall standings, with one day of racing remaining.
“I’m 50 seconds back, so that’s a pretty big margin. The climb in Park City suits me a bit better – it’s steeper. Even if I come in second overall, that’s a huge success for the team, but we are going to do everything we can to get the yellow jersey back.”
Despite relinquishing yellow, Carney was impressed with the team’s efforts in the Tour of Utah’s most critical day.
“I’m super impressed with the guys,” said Carney. “Everyone on the team stepped up to support Mike. A lot of our guys were suffering really bad this week with the altitude and the amount of climbing, but they all made it over those first two climbs. A huge effort by Jesse Anthony, Eric Young, Pierrick Naud, Scott Zwizanski, Phil Gaimon and Tom Soladay kept this race intact for us. Unfortunately Joe Dombrowski was just a bit better climber today – it’s certainly not because the team didn’t ride a great race.”
When asked if yesterday’s stage winning effort took a toll on his legs for the queen stage, Woods said no, but added that a glitch in stage seven’s early goings added difficulty.
“Maybe a couple efforts early on in the stage created some fatigue in the legs,” he said. “BMC Racing’s Joey Rosskopf attacked when I was taking a pee break, and that cost me a bit of energy, trying to get back on when the pace was hot.”
Anthony, always a key behind-the-scenes contributor, was happy with the team’s execution in the first half of the race.
“The start was really hard – uphill for 30 km straight,” said Anthony. “Starting a race like that is very hard, and having to ride in the wind and weld back dangerous moves makes it even harder. We made it, and eventually we were able to settle into a rhythm. Our strategy worked out – everyone did their job well, and the execution was awesome.”
Stage seven’s Park City Circuit is certainly no victory lap, and provides a final chance for the climbers to do battle on Empire Pass. Look for the Orange & Black to stay poised and fight for another stage win, and to reclaim the yellow jersey for Woods.