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Bardiani CSF has monster day as Ciccone, Sterbini conquer Little Cottonwood Canyon

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON — While neither Bardiani CSF riders Giulio Ciccone nor Simone Sterbini figure in the overall race lead at the 2017 Tour of Utah, the teammates gave the Utah fans, gathered en masse up Little Cottonwood Canyon, something to cheer about during Saturday’s stage 6 of the Tour of Utah.

With a group of lead riders pared to seven during the final climb to Snowbird, Ciccone attacked with 4 kilometers to go, jumping out of his saddle, gritting his teeth and putting 35 seconds between himself and teammate Sterbini as the Italians earned the top two spots during the most difficult climbing day of this year’s tour.

“With just about 4K I made a little bit of an attack. I wanted to see how the others would react,” Ciccone said. “Once I had a little bit of a gap I knew I had to regulate and pace myself to the end.”

Third place on Saturday’s stage went to Axeon Hagens Berman rider Neilson Powless. The 20-year-old, fourth in the overall standings and the 2017 Tour of Utah's best young rider, said he was impressed with the climbing ability of the Italians.

“Pretty much from the base of the final climb the Bardiani CSF guys had a crazy pace,” Powless said.

It has been an impressive Tour of Utah for Powless, who cracked the top four during Wednesday’s time trial up Big Cottonwood Canyon. On Saturday, Powless showed the savvy of a veteran, attacking the other yellow jersey contenders 2 kilometers from the finish at Snowbird.

“I just tried to stay well within myself the whole time,” Powless said. “I just tried to be as steady as possible up the climbs until I felt the moment was right and at just over 2K I went and tried to get to the line as quickly as possible.”

With one day remaining in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Rally Cycling’s Rob Britton maintains a 26-second lead over United Health Care rider Gavin Mannion. Britton’s yellow jersey looked to be in serious jeopardy Saturday as BMC rider Brent Bookwalter and Holowesko Citadel rider and Lehi resident TJ Eisenhart used a terrific descent down American Fork Canyon to at one point gain about two minutes on Britton.

Bookwalter and Eisenhart each had a pair of teammates with them, and for about 45 minutes, the virtual yellow jersey (race leader) belonged to Bookwalter, who entered the day trailing Britton by 44 seconds.

But Rally Cycling rallied as Adam De Vos and Sepp Kuss helped Britton bridge the gap before the lead group hit the Snowbird climb.

“I’ve been doing this for a while now and it rarely pays off to panic,” Britton said. “I had 100 percent confidence in my guys even though we knew Brent and TJ were going to be going full gas to get across. Those two guys were huge threats but their aggression kind of worked against them today.”

While Britton isn’t sure exactly what to expect Sunday as other teams try to take the yellow jersey, he expects the race to be aggressive from the get go.

“I think it will be very similar as today,” Britton said. “They’re going to try to isolate me as early as possible but I think tomorrow is a little different and I should be able to lean on Gavin (Mannion) and Serghei Tvetcov a little more as their podium positions are pretty solidified.

For anyone who has never seen an elite cycling race, Sunday’s Stage 7 with a start and finish at the Utah Capitol offers a perfect opportunity to take in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah in its majesty. Stage 7 starts at 1 p.m. with an estimated finish time of 3:45 p.m. Cyclists will complete 11 laps of a Salt Lake City course, covering 73 miles. The best spectator site might be State Street as riders suffer on the steep climb. Other viewing areas include Bonneville Boulevard, around City Creek Canyon and the serpentine turns around Reservoir Park.