SALT LAKE CITY — With a frenzied mob of Utah cycling fans laced up the steep climb of State Street to the Utah Capitol, Rally Cycling’s Rob Britton rode into cycling history by claiming the 2017 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah’s overall championship.
Britton charged into the tour lead with a brilliant time-trial climb Wednesday during a 5.6-mile ascent to Brighton. Massaging a 26-second lead over United Health Care rider Gavin Mannion, Britton withstood all challenges during the final four stages by riding to the biggest victory of his career as champion of the Tour of Utah.
“I’ve been doing this for a while, and there is a lot of pressure that comes with that and it’s something I kind of thrive on,” Britton said. “I’m very grateful to have such a fantastic team around me because without them I wouldn’t be where I am.”
It has been a phenomenal season for Rally Cycling, which just came off two stage wins at the Tour of California. Britton says part of the reason for the success has been a close-knit group of guys who all work for one another and who have ridden together all season.
“We know each other well and we’ve all ridden for each other at some point this year,” Britton said. “We are a very tight-knit group and I have a lot of confidence in them and they have a lot of confidence in me, so this is pretty sweet.”
Since Britton vaulted into the overall tour lead with that 18-minute, 5.6-mile time-trial ride, the Rally Cycling team rallied around their leader, protecting him against any hazard the terrain or other teams threw at him. Britton’s No. 1 protector, Sepp Kuss, said he was happy to ride as Britton’s escort for the last four stages.
“It’s been a privilege, and he’s helped me out numerous times, and I think a lot of the other guys on the team can speak that he’s really selfless,” Kuss said.
For United Health Care rider Mannion, who finished third on Sunday’s stage while earning a 4-second bonus to close the official gap to 22 seconds, the second-place finish culminates what he calls a very successful tour for the UHC team.
“I think we had a really good week, we came in with a few guys targeting GC (general classification) and Travis (McCabe) looking at stages,” Mannion said. “To come away with a stage win and a podium overall and the Utah Sports Commission sprinters jersey, it was very successful.”
Sunday’s stage gave fans around the world a spectacular view of Salt Lake City. Fans lined the streets of downtown Salt Lake City and the upper Avenues and even North Temple as cyclists completed 11 laps that totaled 73 miles.
While riders attacked all day, especially at the base of the State Street climb, it was Italian cyclist Marco Canola of the Nippo-Vini Fantini team who attacked the final climb and beat everyone to the line for the stage win.
“The Tour of Utah was very important for the team with some big races coming up in Italy in September,” Canola said. “I felt myself getting stronger every day, so I’m very, very happy with today’s result.”
Team Jelly Belly rider Seghei Tvetcov of Romania finished third in the overall standings while 20-year old Axeon Hagens Berman’s Neilson Powless finished fourth, giving fans and fellow riders a look at a very talented young rider.
“I think the experience of being in the top five of a race like Utah is really good for overall development,” Powless said. “I’m still 20 years old, so I’m trying to get better at the sport so I think anytime I can ride with guys like this is good and I’m just super excited.”
While the 2017 Tour of Utah gave hometown fans something to shout about, it also opened up a whole new vision of Utah for young riders like Rally Cycing's Kuss.
“The tour incorporates some of my favorite styles of riding, high-altitude, tough climbs, and the crowds quite honestly have been the highlight,” Kuss said. “It’s so awesome to be riding through these smaller towns and the fans and see everyone that really seem happy to see us.”
Tour of Utah director Jenn Andrs, speaking briefly before the competitors' press conference, noted a change in the 2018 Tour of Utah. Dates for next year’s tour have tentatively been planned for Aug. 6-12.
1. Robert Britton — Rally Cycling — 22:48:03
2. Gavin Mannion — UHC — (-22)
3. Serghei Tvetcov — Jelly Belly — (-32)
4. Neilson Powless — Axeon Hagens Berman — (-35)
5. Brent Bookwalter — BMC — (-2:00)
Stage 7 results
1. Marco Canola — Nippo-Vini Fantini — 2:40:18
2. Brent Bookwalter — BMC — 2:40:20
3. Gavin Mannion — UHC — 2:40:20
4. Patrick Muller — BMC — 2:40:20
5. Simone Andreetta — Bardiana CSF — 2:40:20
6. Robert Britton — Rally Cycling — 2:40:20