EF Education First’s Lawson Craddock moves into leader’s jersey ahead of Wednesday’s Queen Stage
What on paper — and for most of the day — looked like a fairly straight-forward sprint stage got turned upside down in the waning moments, as Umberto Marengo (Neri-Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM) blasted out of a late breakaway to take a narrow win on stage 1 of the Tour of Utah on Tuesday.
Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) finished just behind the Italian stage winner, gaining enough time (and a time bonus) to move into first in the overall standings. The American now has a 6-second lead over Monday’s prologue winner James Piccoli (Elevate-KHS), who was happy just to finish in the main bunch after suffering an untimely flat with 7.5 miles to go and having to chase hard to regain contact before the finish in North Logan City on a sunny and warm afternoon in the Beehive state.
João Almeida (Hagens Berman Axeon), who was also in the late breakaway and finished fifth, is now tied with Piccoli on GC. Third place on the stage went to Edwin Avila (Israel Cycling Academy).
The day’s action of consequence kicked off with about 12 miles left in the 86.9-mile adventure when Travis Samuel (DC Bank), the final member of the standard little-to-no-hope breakaway, was reeled in by a bunch motivated by the prospect of a bunch sprint. But instead of the sprinter teams coming forward to control the race, chaos ensued, with numerous riders taking flyers off the front during the final two laps of the stage’s 7.2-mile finishing circuit that included a shallow cat. 4 climb just to keep things interesting.
Piccoli suffered his puncture just before the start of the final lap, but stayed calm during a rapid bike change and chase that was assisted by teammate Eric Young. The former race leader was dangling at the back at the start of the final climb, but had safely reintegrated by the time the bunch went over the top.
Back at the front, Craddock launched off the front with about 2.5 miles to go, and after initially flying solo, he was joined by Marengo, Almeida, Avila, eventual fourth place finisher Griffin Easter (303 Project), and Sebastian Schonberger (Neri-Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM). Behind, the field seemed to let up, caught off guard by the fact that two riders near the top of the GC standings had managed to slip away. That was all the rope the very-motivated break needed, as they hammered their way toward the finish.
As the line approached, Schonberger was first to go, drawing out Craddock in the process. While the American burned matches shutting down the Austrian’s jump, Marengo bided his time, finally launching with about 100 meters to go and winning with room to spare.
The stage 1 trek, which started and finished in North Logan City, was the longest of this year’s Utah tour. The course traversed the western slopes of the Bear River Mountains, while doling out 4,310 feet of total elevation gain that was spread over seven cat. 4 climbs.
The peloton started the day’s work with two trips around Little Mountain, passing less than 10 miles south of the Idaho state line. Each of those circuits included the first two King of the Mountain points opportunities, which were split evenly between Ignacio Prado (Canel’s Specialized) and Sam Boardman (Wildlife Generation). That pair were part of the day’s other prominent breakaway that slipped away about 6 miles into the stage and also included Camden Vodicka (Wildlife Generation), Francesco Bongiorno (Neri-Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM), and Samuel.
Prado, the reigning Mexican national road race champion, also grabbed top sprint points in Newton, which the course passed through twice before heading back to the start/finish for five finishing laps. Rolling in a clockwise direction, each 7.2-mile circuit included a manageable cat. 4 ascent. But only the first of those climbs counted in the KoM competition, which went to Boardman.
With that jersey sewn up for the day, the Wildlife Generation rider drifted back to the Elevate-KHS-led bunch, which had never ceded more than 3 minutes during an otherwise fairly straightforward day attempting to protect Piccoli’s yellow leader’s jersey ahead of the bigger climbing stages to come.
The breakaway all but fell apart soon after reaching the finishing circuits. Bongiorno suffered a puncture and had a painfully slow wheel change. Then Prado and Vodicka dropped off the pace, leaving Samuel alone at the front with 25 miles left to race.
But the Canadian gamely stayed away, holding onto a 1-minute advantage with three laps to go. It was all very calculated, though, with the sprinter’s teams content to let him suffer a little longer before reeling him in for good with 12 miles left to race.
From there, the action heated up, with numerous non-sprinters trying to launch attacks in hopes derailing the day’s expected sprint finish. And that’s exactly what happened, with Marengo capturing top honors.
This was the first win of 2019 for Marengo, 27, whose previous best result was a 4th place finish at stage 9 of the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China. His only other professional victory came in 2017 at the Challenge du Prince.
Next up at the Tour of Utah is arguably the race’s hardest stage, an 84.4-mile leg tester from Brigham City to the 8,900-foot summit of Powder Mountain. The trek up the hors categorie climb is 8.6 miles with max gradient of 15 percent. That comes after the field will have already climbed the cat. 2 North Ogden Drive ascent. All told there’s 7,310 feet of elevation gain for the day. With only two WorldTour teams racing in Utah, expect a wide open day of racing.