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Tour of Utah: Jeff Louder crushes the field in Stage 4

However, Leipheimer retains the overall lead in Tour of Utah

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PARK CITY — Jeff Louder is the former Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah champion, but until he lined up for the start of Saturday's Stage 4 criterium in Park City, he wasn't particularly happy with the way he had been racing.

Especially after Friday night's time trial when he lost more time than he was comfortable with.

Saturday evening, you couldn't wipe the smile off his face after Louder, proudly racing in memory of his old friend and training buddy Terry McGinnis — the Tour of Utah's former executive director — crushed the field of more than 120 professional cyclists with a dominating solo attack over the final 45 minutes of the crit.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to win this race here in Utah in front of so many friends," an exhausted Louder said. "After I got a little bit of a break and got into a rhythm, I definitely felt like T-Mac was there riding with me."

Louder, a Salt Lake City native who still calls Sugar House home, cycled an inspired race Saturday. On a course as physically demanding as any crit you'll find, Louder tested his legs with an early attack to see how the he felt and how the field would react. After finding his rhythm, Louder launched another brutal surge that left most of the field in his wake.

For nearly 45 minutes, Louder raced alone, without friends — or enemies — to slice through the wind on a loop around Main Street that featured a hefty climb on each lap.

Levi Leipheimer, the former Utahn racing in the Mellow Johnny's kit and without the aid of any of his Team Radio Shack partners, retained the overall leader's jersey with a strong ride. Leipheimer marked the closest contenders to his yellow jersey and kept them close at all times, matching each surge or attack.

"I don't race a lot of criteriums," said Leipheimer, who primarily races in Europe. (Crits are much more popular in America.) "So I just tried to stay safe."

Though he allowed No. 2 overall Francesco Mancebo, who finished third Saturday and got a small time bonus, to chop a few seconds out of his overall lead, Leipheimer still retains an advantage of nearly 90 seconds.

"I won't have a team to help me," Leipheimer said. "So I can't mark everybody that's out there. I'll just have to play it smart and keep an eye on Francesco and Darren (Lill) and make sure they don't get away from me."

Today's final stage — a nasty 102-mile trek from Park City to Snowbird by way of Kamas, Provo Canyon and the Alpine Loop behind Mount Timpanogos — will determine the champion of this year's Tour of Utah. And while Leipheimer's lead is comfortable by bicycle racing standards, it is by no means safe.

On any of the stage's three rugged climbs — especially the steep pitch up Little Cottonwood Canyon — attacks will be made by Mancebo and Lill, who are both capable climbers eager to knock off the powerful Pro Tour rider.

Saturday, though, belonged to Louder.

As each lap was raced, Louder's lead grew and held steady. With 10 laps to go, he had a lead of nearly a minute as the field tried to close the gap each time up the hill.

But Louder never cracked, finishing well-ahead of the chase group. He crossed the finish line point with one hand pointing to a red wrist band honoring McGinnis, who died of cancer a few months ago, and the other pointing to the sky.

Tour of Utah

Stage 4, Park City

75 minute criterium

1. Jeff Louder, BMC Pro Cycling

2. Jai Crawford, Fly V Australia

3. Francesco Mancebo, Canyon Bicycles

Overall standings

1. Levi Leipheimer, Mellow Johnny's

2. Mancebo, Canyon Bicycles, 1:28

3. Darren Lill, Fly V Australia, 1:49

Stage 5, Park City to Snowbird

102 Miles, 10 a.m. start today

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com