We committed all day, and we rode from five minutes after the break went, to the finish line, we chased. So it was a real team effort. I couldn't have won without these guys. —Jake Keough
SALT LAKE CITY — Jake Keough was just a few miles into Friday's 134-mile stage of the Tour of Utah when he crashed to the ground so hard that he tore his jersey and cracked his helmet.
But once he realized he wasn't seriously hurt, his concern shifted to catching the seven men he's supposed to be helping.
"I was actually kind of bummed out because my teammates were all right at the front, and I knew I had to get up and still give it a go," Keough said of his thoughts after the crash, which occurred early in the 134-mile stage that started in Lehi and finished at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. "I couldn't let those guys down. That was pretty much my first thought."
Not only did he catch them, he had enough left in his tank to offer a sprint to the finish that earned him — and his teammates — the Stage 4 victory with a time of 4:47:06. It's the second stage win for UnitedHealthcare in this race.
Naturally, Keough's first thoughts after crossing the finish line were of those same guys.
"Thanks to these guys," Keough said of his teammates. "They rode awesome. We committed all day, and we rode from five minutes after the break went, to the finish line, we chased. So it was a real team effort. I couldn't have won without these guys."
The break he referred to was a group of young, smart and extremely aggressive riders who chose to break from the main peloton just a few miles into the stage.
The riders who broke away were Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager-Livestrong), Jeremy Vennell (Bissell), Craig Lewis (Champion System), Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Thomas Leezer (Rabobank). The breakaway pack extended their lead by as much as 11 minutes before the peloton, led by UnitedHeathcare, reeled them in — eventually catching them with just 800 meters left in the race.
"The first 10K was working, and then we decided to take it easier," said Stuyven, whose participation in the breakaway earned him the most aggressive rider's jersey. "After the first feed zone, it was fairly windy, so we worked a littlee harder to stay away. We almost did it. The stage was just a little bit too long, like 800 meters too long."
One of the men who helped close the gap between the main group of riders and the breakaway group was Utah native Jeff Louder. He became strategist and coach, and then, eventually, one of the riders who worked hard so the sprinters could rest up for the finish.
"Today I was the captain on the road, so I was trying to keep those three motivated, keep everything in check," said Louder, whose effort earned him the best Utah rider jersey. "I was trying to think so the sprinters didn't have to. I knew in the back of my mind that once things got dire, I was obviously going to have to jump in. We had to kind of balance keeping the break in check and when it was time, help them out so we could catch them. It's a team effort to win a sprint."
One problem was that some of the largest teams are in contention for the overall prizes so they didn't want to work as hard on Friday's fairly flat stage when two brutal days of riding remain this weekend.
"The gap went up to 10 minutes pretty quickly," said Louder. "We let it go to 10 (minutes between the peloton and the breakaway) and then we decided we needed to ride."
He said other teams stepped up to help lead the larger group in closing the distance between the two groups.
"We couldn't let them get out 15 or 20 minutes, that's not safe," said Louder.
So they worked hard to catch them, so hard that they actually had to use one of their sprinters to help close the gap. Keough said he's had a bad stretch of crashes lately, but was grateful he wasn't injured.
He was grateful his team made the decision early on not to let the breakaway group go unchallenged.
"Our team was the first to commit," he said. "We knew everyone wanted a bit of a break … We knew we wanted a bunch sprint."
And that's what they got.
Keough said he almost got caught in the pack, but then managed to jump behind a teammate who kept the speed up for him as he saw an opening about 200 meters out and took it.
Finishing second was Marco Benfatto (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda) was third.
Christian Vande Velde held onto the yellow jersey, as he finished in the main pack of riders. His teammates Tom Danielson and another Utah native Dave Zabriskie were third as they trail Vande Velde by three seconds.
The fifth stage is 102 miles of brutal climbing that starts in Park City and finishes at Snowbird Ski Resort. In years past, this has been the final stage, often referred to as the Queen Stage. This year organizers added a stage that will begin and end in Park City.
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer finished 39th and trailed the winner by two minutes and seven seconds. It was one of his teammates who finished second and the squad, which started with just six riders, now only has four left in the competition.
Tour of Utah: Friday's top finishers
1. Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare), 4:47.06
2. Marco Benfatto, ItalyComment on this story
3. Tyler Farrar, U.S.
1. Christian Vande Velde
2. (tie) Tom Danielson, David Zabriskie, 3 seconds behind