CEDAR CITY — After 101 miles and 8,950 feet of elevation gain, Tuesday’s Stage 1 of the 2018 Tour of Utah came down to a mad dash to the finish. With a boisterous and appreciative Cedar City crowd rocking the finish line, United Health Care’s Travis McCabe launched a final assault 250 meters out and held on to nab the stage win.
By winning the stage, McCabe garnered a 10-second time bonus. That bonus moves McCabe into second place in the overall classification, just two seconds behind the prologue winner, BMC Racing’s Tejay Van Garderen.
“I really just tried to make it up over the big climb early in the race,” McCabe said. “I just floated along and waited and it opened up with 250 meters to go and I won.”
While McCabe makes it sound matter-of-fact, Tuesday’s stage was anything but easy. The big climb he refers to is a 15-mile, at times 15 percent grade, with a total elevation gain of 4,500 feet. That climb dropped many of the top sprinters. As the peloton swallowed up the field on the descent into Cedar City, the riders had to navigate three circuits around town.
Team Lotto NL-Jumbo’s Neilson Powless attacked on the second circuit, but was eventually swallowed up by the field. McCabe’s UHC teammate, Serghei Tvetcov launched on the last lap as part of the plan to get McCabe to the line first.
“Serghei took a flier to keep the pace hot, and that forced other guys to chase,” McCabe said. “We wanted to keep the pace high, so we use guys like Serghei to launch across, and he covered it.”
The best climber of the day was Team Lotto NL-Jumbo’s Daan Olivier. Four riders broke away early in Tuesday’s stage with Olivier among them. On the second big climb of the day, Olivier dropped the other riders and earned the King of the Mountain Jersey after reaching the summit named after the 2,500-year-old Bristlecone pine trees.
“It was a typical American climb, in the end it got steeper, Olivier said.
Tuesday’s race topped out at 10,660 feet of elevation, and Olivier said he liked the steep terrain.
“For me, it was the first time I raced at altitude, which makes it pretty hard," he said. “I think it was a really nice climb and the steep gradient, I like it.”
Not normally thought of as a climber, Rally Cycling’s Evan Huffman was part of the four-man breakaway and was awarded the Most Aggressive Rider jersey after the stage.
“We had four riders and we worked pretty well,” Huffman said. “That first climb was kind of the limit for me, and I just tried to suffer through it, and then they sat up on the top.”
It was a relatively quiet day for overall race leader Van Garderen and his BMC Racing teammates.
“Our plan was to let a breakaway get up the road,” Van Garderen said. “We found a breakaway we were comfortable with, we let them get a little time before establishing a chase.”
Van Garderen describes his highlight of the day as a harrowing moment on the descent into Cedar City when encountering some black tar on the road. Van Garderen just finished the Tour de France and is riding with some different and younger teammates in the Tour of Utah.
“We were able to keep things relatively under control for such a hard, hot day."
Wednesday’s stage starts and finishes in Payson with the legendary Mount Nebo looming late in the race. Van Garderen still isn’t sure how his legs feel but says Wednesday might be a good indicator.
“Today’s tempo was hard, but I felt comfortable with it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll really know how my legs are until some of the other general classification guys start making moves, and then I’ll have to see how I respond to that.”