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Joe Dombrowski wins the day, but Ben Hermans takes Tour of Utah with top-5 final stage finish

Cyclists James Piccoli, from left, Ben Hermans and Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski ascend Empire Pass during Stage 6 of the Tour of Utah in Wasatch Mountain State Park on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. Hermans won the general classification standings with a lead of 50 seconds.
Cyclists James Piccoli, from left, Ben Hermans and Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski ascend Empire Pass during Stage 6 of the Tour of Utah in Wasatch Mountain State Park on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. Hermans won the general classification standings with a lead of 50 seconds.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

PARK CITY — All week, Israel Cycling Academy’s Ben Hermans looked like the strongest rider at the Tour of Utah. On Sunday, Hermans conquered Empire Pass before descending into Park City. While he finished fourth on the stage, Hermans was crowned champion of the 2019 Tour of Utah.

Hermans took the lead during the Powder Mountain stage Tuesday, then gained time with another stage win on Wednesday. At the finish, Hermans was 50 seconds in front of Elevate-KHS rider James Piccoli.

“From the first time I did this race in 2014 I had a good feeling about the race,” Hermans said. “I keep getting better results in the general classification. Last year I was second, so I’m really happy with this win.”

Billed as America’s Toughest Stage Race, Hermans talked about the difficulty of riding 500 miles and climbing 38,000 feet in the oxygen-reduced air in Utah over a seven-day period.

“I’ve done the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the Tour of California and the Tour of Utah is more difficult than either of those events,” Hermans said. “It is tough to climb at this altitude and the Tour of Utah is just as challenging as any race in Europe.”

For Elevate-KHS rider James Piccoli, the goal of wearing yellow by day’s end was doomed on the climb up Empire Pass. Earlier in the week, Piccoli had a flat tire on the last lap of the circuit in North Logan. While he finished with the main field, Piccoli had 20 seconds deducted from his overall time relating to an improper tire change. All week the Canadian rider attacked Hermans, and on Sunday he could not gain ground despite attacking several times up the climb. Piccoli was second overall in the tour while finishing sixth on the stage.

Entering Stage 6, EF Education First’s Joe Dombrowski was in fifth place in the overall standings, trailing the yellow jersey by just over two minutes. As the peloton crumbled on the early stages of the Empire Pass climb, Dombrowski attacked. The 2015 Tour of Utah champion was able to gap Hermans and Piccoli by 15 seconds before the pair of chasers caught back up midway through the climb.

“I’ve done this climb a number of times in training and I tried at the bottom but Ben and James were with me,” Dombrowski said. “The first part of the climb is very steep so I eased off hoping other riders would come back and present another opportunity.”

Dombrowski’s strategy paid off as Hagens Berman Axeon’s Joao Almeida and Worthy Pro Cycling’s Keegan Swirbul joined the leaders during the final 3 km of the race. With 2 km remaining, Dombrowski jumped out of his saddle, broke away from everyone and reached the summit first. After a super-tuck down the tricky descent into Park City and a short climb up Main Street, Dombrowski had a stage win, finishing 24 seconds in front of Almeida.

Dombrowski’s effort Sunday vaulted the American rider from fifth to third, earning a podium finish and a terrific response from the Park City crowd. Dombrowski said Sunday’s effort was only about getting the stage victory.

“If you win the stage then obviously there is a chance that also you move up,” he said. “I think I would prefer to race to win the stage and didn’t really think about the podium.”

Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah final jersey results:

Overall Leader, Ben Hermans – Larry H. Miller Group of Companies

Best Sprinter, Travis McCabe – Utah Sports Commission

King-of-the-Mountains, Hayden McCormick – Utah Office of Tourism

Most Aggressive River, James Piccoli – Larry H. Miller Dealerships

Overall Fan Favorite, Tony Baca – America First Credit Union.

Stage 6 results:

1. Joe Dombrowski, EF Education First, 3:11.09

2. Joao Almeida, Hagens Berman Axeon (+24)

3. Keegan Swirbul, Worthy Pro Cycling (+26)

4. Ben Hermans, Israel Cycling Academy (+26)

5. James Piccoli, Elevate KHS (+30)

6. Lawson Craddock, EF Education First (+1:24)

7. Matteo Badilatti, Israel Cycling Academy (+1:39)

8. Kyle Murphy, Rally UHC Cycling (+1:58)

9. Rob Britton, Rally UHC Cycling (+2:06)

10. Lachlan Morton, EF Education First (+2:11)

Overall Standings:

1. Ben Hermans, Israel Cycling Academy, 18:46.09

2. James Piccoli, Elevate-KHS (+50)

3. Joe Dombrowski, EF Education First (+1:32)

4. Joao Almeida, Hagens Berman Axeon (+2:26)

5. Niklas Eg, Trek Segafredo (+2:57)

6. Kyle Murphy, Rally UHC (+3:20)

7. Lawson Craddock, EF Education First (+4:08)

8. Keegan Swirbul, Worthy Pro Cycling (+4:40)

9. Peter Stetina, Trek Segafredo (+5:22)

10. Matteo Badilatti, Israel Cycling Academy (+5:28)