Everyone said that Friday's stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah would end in a sprint. Jake Keogh of UnitedHeathlcare Pro Cycling outsprinted the field to take the stage victory, the second for the team after Rory Sutherland won the opening stage in Ogden on Tuesday. Liquigas-Cannondale’s Marco Benfatto finished second, while Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp took third. Race leader Christian Vande Velde finished safely in the field to retain the yellow jersey.
"All of the guys rode awesome today. Everyone committed and focused on bringing the break back to make it a field sprint," said Keogh after the stage. "There was a pretty good tail wind out there which makes it a lot more difficult to bring back the break but we were able to finally pull it back in."
A six-rider breakaway rode off the front early in the stage and very nearly defied expectations by staying away all the way to the finish in Salt Lake City. The break included: Yann Huguet of Argos-Shimano, Thomas Leezer of Rabobank, Craig Lewis of Champion System, Jasper Stuyven of Bontrager-Livestrong, Peter Velits of Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, and Jeremy Vennell of Team Bissell.
The break grabbed a maximum advantage of over eleven minutes before the combined efforts UnitedHealthcare, Team Exergy, and Garmin-Sharp began to take back the road kilometer by kilometer. UnitedHealthcare proved especially committed to the chase and threw their entire team into the effort. "Winning a sprint is a team effort," said UnitedHealthcare road captain Jeff Louder after the stage.
Midway through the race, Keogh suffered a crash, but he quickly jumped back on the bike and rejoined the field. The gap to the break steadily decreased until around 30 kilometers to go. Then, it stuck right around 1:30. According to Stuyven, the break decided to go "full gas" at the 30 kilometer mark in a all-out effort to reach the finish ahead of the field.
They very nearly made it. Inside the final ten kilometers, the break still had 1:30 in hand, and it looked increasingly likely that the stage winner would come from the six-rider break. Indeed, the catch came just inside the one kilometer mark in a total heartbreaker for the escape.
As they jammed into the finish, UnitedHealthcare worked to position their sprinter, Keogh. Sutherland and Förster did the work of delivering Keogh the front. Then, the Massachusetts native sped past Benfatto and Farrar to take the stage victory.
The general classification remains unchanged ahead of tomorrow’s mountaintop finish at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. Garmin-Sharp will have some work to do to defend against the certain attacks of the horde of riders within a minute of Vande Velde’s race lead. The heat, altitude and length of the Snowbird climb should mix up the classification by the end of the day on Saturday.