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Having attacked on the finishing circuit, Reijnen was part of a 5-rider group that sprinted for the win on the first stage of the Tour of Utah and held off Howes and Phinney who finished third in his comeback race

Photo: Feltet.dk

TAYLOR PHINNEY

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03.08.2015 @ 22:42 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Kiel Reijnen (Unitedhealthcare) confirmed his status as one of the best American riders when he won stage 1 of the Tour of Utah with a powerful sprint from a 5-rider group. Having joined Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin) and Taylor Phinney (BMC) in bridging the gap to early attackers Johann van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka) and Gregory Daniel (Axeon) on the finishing circuit, he helped drive the pace before coming out on top in the final dash to the line, taking the win and the first leader’s jersey. Howes was second while Phinney was third in his comeback race.

 

Last year Kiel Reijnen enjoyed a breakthrough second half of the season when he won a stage and battled hard against close friend Alex Howes in the USA Pro Challenge. His performances earned him a spot on the American team for the World Championships and created lofty expectations for the 2015 season.

 

Unfortunately, the first part of the year has not gone to plan for the fast American who has been unable to deliver on his promises. However, it now seems that he is back on track and is ready for another great month of August after he won the first stage of the Tour of Utah after another great fight against Howes who finished second.

 

Reijnen may have taken the victory but it was Taylor Phinney who gained most of the attention as the American was also part of the successful five-rider group that decided the race in a sprint. The result was remarkable as the Utah opener was the BMC rider’s first race since he broke his leg in May 2014 at the American road race nationals.

 

Reijnen, Howes and Phinney benefited from a big mistake from the sprint teams who had allowed an early 7-rider group to get an advantage of 14 minutes before they started to chase. This forced them to ride so hard in the windy, wet conditions that they had nothing left when they hit the 3.2km finishing circuit which included a small climb and would be covered twice.

 

At the first passage of the line with 6.4km to go, it was Drapac that had taken control of the peloton and they had brought the gap to surviving escapees Johann van Zyl and Greg Daniel down to just 25 seconds. However, they were running out of gas and when Reijnen and Howes attacked on the small climb on the circuit, they were unable to respond.

 

The two Americans bridged the gap to the two leaders and as they hit the finishing straight, Phinney also joined the group in his comeback race. However, the quintet just had a 10-second gap at the start of the final 3.2km lap and it was still Drapac chasing hard.

 

The Australians cracked when they hit the climb and so the gap went out to 15 seconds with 1.5km to go. Two riders briefly tried to bridge across but Bardiani came back to the fore and brought the two attackers back.

 

Howes led the front group under the flamme rouge as van Zyl and Daniel were just sitting on after a long day on the front. It was Phinney who led through the final turn with 50mm to go and he continued to ride on the front.

 

That ended up being the perfect lead-out for Reijnen who was in the perfect position behind the BMC rider. He started his sprint with 150m to go and Howes was not even close to coming around. A few metres further back, Unitedhealthcare were doing a big lead-out for John Murphy but it was Eric Young (Optum) who led the peloton home four seconds too late.

 

With the win, Reijnen also takes the first leader’s jersey which he will try to defend in tomorrow’s second stage. It is a predominantly flat affair but a short, steep climb with 30km to go could challenge some of the sprinters before they get to the final part which is mainly flat and should be perfect for a sprint finish.

 

 

A long stage

The 11th edition of the Tour of Utah kicked off with the longest stage in the history of the race as the riders covered 212.5km around the city of Logan on the opening day. The first 50km were all gradually uphill and culminated at the top of a category 3 climb before the riders descended to a flat section that included a trip around Bear Lake. Along the way they would cross the border to spend a part of the stage in Idaho before they returned to go back to Logan along the same road that they used for the first part of the stage. This meant that they would go up a category 2 climb before they took on the long 50km descent back to Logan where they ended the stage by doing two laps of a small circuit in the city.

 

It was a rainy day when the riders gathered for the start in Logan and there was one notable absentee. Defending champion Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin) has tested positive for testosterone and so he was unable to try to make it three in a row in the American race.

 

Seven riders get clear

It didn’t take long for the early break to get formed as five riders took off early on. Another two bridged the gap in the wet conditions to make it a 7-rider group and Johann van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka), Carlos Ramirez (Colombia), Emerson Oronte (Smartstop), Greg Daniel (Axeon), Josh Berry (Budget Forklifts), David Williams (Jamis) and Joe Schmalz (Hincapie) had managed to get a gap of 20-seconds after 10km of racing.

 

The peloton was still not content with the situation and so the attacking continued for a while until the bunch finally decided to sit up. The gap started to grow quickly and at the 20km mark, the escapees already had an advantage of 5.20.

 

A big gap

The peloton was in no mood to initiate a chase and while Ben King (Cannondale) made it back to the peloton after a bike change, the gap grew rapidly. When Drapac and Cannondale slightly upped the pace at the 30km mark, it was already 10.20 but as they were still not really chasing, it was more than 13 minutes after 40km of racing.

 

As the front group hit the steeper part of the climb, the gap had gone out to more than 14 minutes and this was the signal for Drapac and Cannondale-Garmin to ride harder. The Australian team did the majority of the early work to slowly reduce the gap and now Unitedhealthcare also lent a hand. Moments later Daniel beat Berry, Ramirez, van Zyl and Williams in the KOM sprint.

 

The gap comes down

The front group descended to the first intermediate sprint where Williams beat Schmalz and Ramirez in the battle for maximum points. Meanwhile, the peloton continued its steady comeback and they had the gap inside 9 minutes with 120km to go.

 

With 100km to go, Unitedhealthcare, Cannondale-Garmin and Drapac had worked together to bring the gap down to 7.40. At this point, two riders went down in a small crash but they were quickly back on their bikes.

 

The break splits up

With 80km to go, the gap was still 7 minutes and only coming down slowly. Meanwhile, the front group approached the final climb and before they got to the bottom, Daniel beat Oronte and van Zyl in the final intermediate sprint.

 

The climb quickly took its toll as Ramirez, Schmalz and Williams were dropped almost as soon as the road started to point upwards. Moments later Daniel had bad luck as he needed a front wheel change and he had to work hard to rejoin the leaders.

 

Bardiani and Colombia ride hard on the climb

When he finally got back less than 5km from the top, the three chasers had been distanced by 30 seconds. At the same time, the pace was too fast for Berry who was dropped from the front group.

 

In the peloton, Cannondale-Garmin had done the early work to reduce the gap to 5.50 but as the climbing got harder, it was the Colombia team that hit the front. The South Americans accelerated hard and sent riders out the back door in a quest to also get rid of the sprinters. Later Bardiani took over and it was mainly Stefano Pirazzi who took some huge turns on the front.

 

More KOM points for Daniel

Daniel had recovered well from his chase and managed to accelerate near the top to take maximum points before he slowed down to wait for his companions. Meanwhile, Bardiani continued to ride hard in the peloton but their work didn’t really pay off and the gap was still 5.20 with 40km to go.

 

This was the signal for Unitedhealthcare to kick into action and after they had led the chase for a while, a big alliance between several teams formed. Drapac, Unitedhealthcare, Hincapie and Bardiani were all among the teams that did a lot of work on the front to bring the three leaders back.

 

The gap comes down

Schmalz was the first rider to get caught and later Williams and Ramirez were also absorbed by the peloton. Finally, Berry also had to surrender as the peloton had now really gone up to speed.

 

With 25km to go, the gap was down to 3.30 but the escapees were doing a good job to keep the peloton at bay. With 20km to go, they still had an advantage of 2.45 despite battling a strong headwind.

 

Oronte is dropped

The harsh conditions finally started to take their toll and so the gap was down to just 2 minutes with 15km to go. In the peloton, Hincapie, Optum and Unitedhealthcare had taken complete control and as the leaders were tiring, the advantage started to melt awat.

 

With 10km to go, Oronte was dropped from the front group before van Zyl attacked on a small climb. However, Daniel was strong to respond and the dup stayed together.

 

With 8km to go, the pace was so fast that the peloton was starting to split on the wet and windy roads but it stayed largely intact. At this point, the gap was down to just a minute and the gap was down to just 20 seconds when they crossed the finish line for the first time to start the exciting finale.

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