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After Bookwalter and Norris had escaped from and 11-rider front group on the final descent, the latter won the two-rider sprint on the final stage of the Tour of Utah; Dombrowski took the overall victory

Photo: Sirotti

BRENT BOOKWALTER

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DRAPAC PORSCHE CYCLING

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JOE DOMBROWSKI

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MICHAEL WOODS

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NATNAEL BERHANE

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TOUR OF UTAH

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10.08.2015 @ 00:04 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Lachlan Norris (Drapac) took the biggest win of his career when he came out on top in the big mountain stage on the final day of the Tour of Utah. Having made it into an 11-rider group on the climb of Empire Pass, he attacked together with Brent Bookwalter (BMC) before beating his companion in the 2-rider sprint. Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) was never threatened and secured the overall victory.

 

Last year Lachlan Norris showed the world that he has the potential to be a great stage race when he finished 10th overall in the Tour of Utah. Since then he has stayed out of the spotlight but like last year it seems that he has hit peak condition just in time for the late-summer stage races in America.

 

Norris has been climbing solidly in the race and was sitting in 8th overall as he went into today’s final stage. Today he confirmed his great potential as he managed to come away with the biggest win of his career after a nail-biting two-rider sprint.

 

The stage ended with the tough climb of the Empire Pass that averaged 9% over a 10km distance and summited just 8km from the downhill finish in Park City. As they hit the climb, Tanner Putt (Unitedhealthcare) had a 1.10 advantage over Jack Bobridge (Budget Forklifts) and Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka) while a group with Taylor Phinney (BMC), Sam Spokes (Drapac), Edwin Avila (Colombia), Luca Chirico (Bardiani), Tyler Magner (Hincapie), Rob Britton (SmartStop), Carson Miller (Jamis), Angus Morton (Jelly Belly) and Griffin Easter (Airgas) was a little further back. The peloton was led by Cannondale-Garmiin and was trailing by 3.10.

 

As soon as they hit the climb, Jim dropped Bobridge while Ben King hit the front of the peloton which exploded to pieces immediately. When he swung off, Ruben Zepuntke took over for the American team.

 

The big chase group had splintered to pieces and as Jelly Belly took over the pace-setting, they started to pick up remnants of the early break. Phinney and Morton were the first to be caught while Spokes, Bobrdige, Miller and Magner were next.

 

Alex Hoews took a turn for Canondlae before Michael Woods (Optum) hit the front and started to apply the pressure. Dombrowski, Frank Schleck and Natnael Berhane stayed glued to his wheel in the dwindling front group as they picked up more riders from the break.

 

Further up the road, Britton had dropped his companions and had passed the fading Putt while Easter and Jim were chasing further back. The Airgas rider also passed Putt as he entered the final 17km.

 

Meanwhile, Woods had whittled the main group down to just Dombrowski, Berhane, Schleck, Rob Squire (Hincapie), Daniel Martinez (Colombia), Lachlan Norris (Drapac) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC) as Chris Horner (Smartstop) was one of the riders to have been distanced. They caught Jim and Putt and the former immediately hit the front to take a big turn for Berhane.

 

Easter was swallowed by with 16km to go when the gap to Britton had been brought down to 45 seconds. Jim swung off and left it to Berhane to apply the pressure. The Eritrean champion set a fast pace that sent Bookwalter out the back door.

 

Berhane and Woods traded pulls on the front while Bookwalter continued to dangle just a few metres behind the main group. The fighting American rode steadily at his own pace and managed to make it back to his rivals as they passed the 15km to go mark.

 

Britton as losing ground quickly and his gap was now down to just 15 seconds. However, he managed to hang onto his lead surprisingly long as Woods was no longer getting much help from Berhane as they hit the easier second part of the climb.

 

As they approached the summit, Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) rejoined the main group and moment later Horner also made it back just as they caught Britton at the 10km mark. Flavio de Luna (Smartstop) and Walter Pedraza (Colombia) were chasing a little further back.

 

When Britton was back in the fold, the pace went completely down and this opened the door for attack. With 1km to the top, Squire launched an attack but it was Norris who managed to briefly separate himself from the group. However, Martinez shut it down and he also reacted strongly to a subsequent move from Morton.

 

Morton led Martinez over the top before Norris and Bookwalter accelerated hard as soon as they sarted the descent. The pair managed to distance their companions while the chase group was splitting, with Britton getting distanced.

 

Bookwalter did an impressive descent and managed to distance Norris. It seemed like the American was riding away with the victory but as they finished the technical part, Norris made it back.

 

The leading duo entered the final kilometre with a 20-second advantage over their chasers but now the game of cat and mouse started as Norris refused to come through. That forced Bookwalter to launch his sprint from the front but Norris timed everything perfectly and managed to come around the American to take the win.

 

Berhane led the chase group home 20 seconds later and as he finished safely in that group, Dombrowski took the overall win. Woods went down on the finishing straight but due to the 3km rule he retains second place, 50 seconds behind Dombrowski. Bookwalter got a consolation for the near-miss as his time gains moved him into third as he denied Schleck third place.

 

Bookwalter also took the points jersey with another second place while Greg Daniel (Axeon) ws the best young rider. Martinez was the best young rider while Colombia won the teams competition.

 

The riders will now take one week of rest before most of them will be back in action in the third and final of the big American stage races, the USA Pro Challenge. The race starts next Monday and runs for a week.

 

A tough mountain stage

After yesterday’s queen stage, the Tour of Utah ended with another big day of climbing when the riders covered 125.5km around Park City on the final day. After a flat start, the riders tackled a category 2 climb at the midpoint before they headed back onto flat and descending roads. In the finale, they tackled the 10km Empire Pass that averaged  9% before they descended the final 8km to the finish.

 

It was a great day for a bike race when the rider gathered for the start in Park City. One rider was absent when they headed out for their neutral ride as sprinter Travis McCabe (Smartstop) didn’t do the final stage.

 

A big group gets clear

As expected the race got off to a very fast start with lots of attacks that forced Cannondale-Garmin to be very attentive. Unitedhealthcare were among the early aggressors until 12 riders managed to escape after 5km of racing.

 

Phinney, Spokes, Jim, Putt, Avila, Chirico, Magner, Britton, Miller, Morton, Easter and Bobridge managed to separate themselves from the bunch and while the peloton slowed down a bit to wait for Dombrowski who had a rear wheel puncture, they managed to build an advantage of 1.25 after 18km of racing.

 

Cannondale-Garmin in control

Cannondale-Garmin hit the front of the peloton to keep the situation under control while Morton beat Avila and Phinney in the first intermediate sprint. At this point, the gap had gone out to 2 minutes and this would be the case for a long time as Cannondale-Garmin kept it stable for a long time.

 

As they hit the category 2 climb, Optum hit the front to make the race hard before Janez Brajkovic (Unitedhealthcare) tried to attack. A Smartstop rider tried to bridge the gap but he would never make the junction and instead Camilo Castiblanco (Colombia) made it across to the Slovenian.

 

The gap grows

At the top of the climb, the two chasers were 1.05 behind the leaders who had seen their advantage ofver the peloton being reduced to just 1.35. Spokes led Putt, Miller Jim and Phinney over the top to pick up the maximum of 8 points.

 

The two chasers decided to sit up while the peloton slowed down a bit, allowing the back to go out to 2 minutes as they entered the feed zone. Cannondale-Garmin got back on the front and kept the situation stable while Tom Soladay (Optum) left the race.

 

Putt takes off

As they descended towards the bottom of the Empire Pass, Putt attacked and he quickly gained 15 seconds on Phinney who took off in pursuit. The American gave it his all and had managed to put 35 seconds into his chasers as he entered the final 30km. At this point Phinney was back in the fold.

 

Putt won the final intermediate sprint at the bottom of the final climb while Miller and Jim were first across the line from the chase group. Moments later, Jim took off and he was joined by Bobridge before they hit the climb. As they turned onto the ascent, Putt had extended his advantage to 1.10 and still had 3.00 on the peloton. Moments later, it all exploded as the dramatic finale unfolded.

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