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In his first race back after his horrific crash in the Tour of California, Hofland emerged as the strongest in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Tour of Utah to become the first leader of the 7-day race

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ANDREA PALINI

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JURE KOCJAN

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MORENO HOFLAND

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TEAM VISMA | LEASE A BIKE

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TOUR OF UTAH

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05.08.2014 @ 00:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Moreno Hofland (Belkin) got the best possible return to racing after his long recovery from injury when he won today’s first stage of the Tour of Utah in a bunch sprint. The young Dutchman finished off excellent teamwork from his Belkin teammates by holding off Jure Kocjan (SmartStop) and Andrea Palini (Lampre-Merida) in the final dash to the line to take both the stage win and the leader’s jersey.

 

Almost three months ago Moreo Hofland saw what seemed to be a very promising season to an abrupt halt when he crashed out of the Tour of California and suffered several severe injuries. Since then, he has spent a long time recovering before heading to the USA for a training camp at altitude.

 

Apparently, he is already back in form as he won his comeback race, the first stage of the Tour of Utah, in commanding fashion. Having used his strong Belkin team to control the hilly stage all day, he finished it off by beating Jure Kocjan and Andrea Palini in the final bunch sprint.

 

In line with its reputation as America’s hardest stage race, the 10th Tour of Utah kicked off with a very mountainous opening stage that brought the riders around a 182.6km circuit starting and finishing in Ceddar City. After a flat first third, the riders tackled the big Cedar Breaks climb at the midpoint before descending to the bottom a long gradual category 4 climb. The top was located 45km from the finish and from there it was a fast descent before the stage ended with 3 laps of a flat 2.7km circuit. Last year Greg Van Avermaet won a stage with a similar finish by attacking in the finale but the stage was widely tipped to end in a sprint from a reduced peloton.

 

With Matt Lloyd (Jelly Belly) being a non-starter, the race got off to a very fast start as several riders were keen to make it into the early break. After 10km of racing, Jonathan Clark (Unitedhealthcare) and Adam Phelan (Drapac) attacked and they fought hard to build an advantage.

 

Harry Carpenter (Hincapie) bridged the gap to make it a front trio that finally was allowed to take off. At the 20km mark, they were 2.05 ahead but Stephen Leece (Jelly Belly) and Thomas Soladay (Optum) had taken off in pursuit.

 

Having realized that they had created a solid gap, the front trio decided to wait for their chasers and a front quintet was now formed. However, Belkin immediately hit the front as they were keen to set up Moreno Hofland for a sprint win and for several kilometres, Maarten Tjallingii, Martijn Keizer and Martijn Tusveld kept the gap stable around the 3-minute mark.

 

Carpenter beat Phelan and Clarke in the intermediate sprint at the bottom of the big climb and from there they started the long, hard ascent. With Carpenter and Clarke being some of the driving forces, they steadily extended their advantage while Belkin continued to power along on the front of the peloton.

 

The fast pace was too much for several riders who were dropped from the peloton in the step upper section while Soladay struggled in the breakaway. A few kilometres from the top, the Optum rider fell off, leaving just four riders to press on.

 

The escapees almost did a track sprint at the top of the climb and it was Carpenter who held off Phelan and Clarke in the battle for maximum points. In the peloton, Joshua Berry (SmartStop) and Grgeory Brenes (Jamis) sprinted ahead to score the remaining points.

 

In the final part of the climb, the peloton had brought the gap back down to around 3 minutes and on the descent, they upped the pace even further. With 81km to go, it was only 1.55 and for a little while it stayed around that mark while many riders managed to rejoin the bunch, including several sprinters.

 

Going up the final climb, the escapees saw their gap come down a lot and at the top, they were only 40 seconds ahead. Again Carpenter emerged as the strongest in the sprint for the points, beating Phelan, Leece and Clarke to become the first holder of the mountains jersey.

 

On the descent, the gap came down to 10 seconds and this opened the door for renowned descender Matej Mohoric (Cannondale) to bridge the gap. The Slovenian added new momentum to the break which started to ride a lot faster and managed to reopen their advantage to around 30 seconds.

 

Belkin were now losing a bit of control in the peloton as riders started to attack. Jens Voigt (Trek), Alexandre Manarelli (Funvic) and Daniel Eaton (Bissell) tried to bridge the gap after the Funvic team had set their Brazilian up for a move.

 

Garmin took over the pace-setting and managed to bring back the counterattack but the attacking continued while Belkin took a small breather. With 8km to go, however, the break was brought back after Trek had taken a huge turn on the front.

 

Cameron Wurf (Cannondale) made an immediate counterattack and he managed to open a nice little gap. However, Belkin went back to work and they brought the Australian back before they started the final lap on the circuit.

 

With 4km to go, Eaton made another attempt but BMC went directly to the front to shut it down but were passed by 6 SmartStop riders. When the small continental team started to fade, Belkin was back in control before Brad Huff, Jesse Anthony, Alex Candelario and Eric Young took over for Optum.

 

With 1km to go, Michael Schär launched a late attack for BMC but Belkin reacted quickly. Jetse Bol brought the former Swiss champion back before leaving it to Robert Wagner to launch Hofland. The Dutch sprinter was given a perfect lead-out and despite a fast finish by Kocjan he took a comfortable stage win.

 

With the win, Hofland is also the first leader of the race and he takes a 4-second advantage over Kocjan into tomorrow’s second stage. It includes no less than four climbs and the final one, the big Boulder Mountain, comes less than 40km from the finish, meaning that the stage is likely to be decided in a sprint from a much smaller group.

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