LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON — Joe Dombrowski was suffering too much to consider the significance of the battle he'd engaged in just five kilometers from the finish of Saturday's brutal, 101-mile Stage 5 in the Tour of Utah.
"No," said the 21-year-old when asked if he ever thought about what it would be like to attack defending TOU champion Levi Leipheimer. "You're suffering pretty badly at that point, but yeah, looking back on it, it's a surprise for sure. For me and my teammate Ian Boswell to be up there says a lot because before that selection happened, if you look at who was there, you've got (Chris) Horner and (Tom) Danielson and (Christian) Vande Velde and Levi. Those are the best American stage racers, and for us to be able to ride with those guys, it's pretty exciting for sure."
Dombrowski and Boswell, who ride for Lance Armstrong's U-23 team Bontrager Livestrong, were with the front pack of riders when a 10-kilometer grind turned into an uphill fight for the stage win.
He said the lead group of riders didn't need to make a big move as the 9 percent grade took it's toll on the cyclists as they made the six-mile climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the finish at Snowbird Ski Resort.
"It just slowly thinned out," said Dombrowski. "It wasn't anything punchy. It was just steadily guys were dropped one by one. Then finally Levi attacked with maybe 5K to go, and I followed. That's when really the race was on to the top. Came down really to a group of four. We were attacking all the way the last K."
That front pack was led by the new leader of the overall race — BMC Racing's Johann Tschopp. He took the yellow jersey from Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda's Vande Velde, and now holds a tenuous 38-second lead over Vande Velde with one 76-mile stage to go in the 2012 race.
Tschopp said he didn't decide to make a break for the finish line until the cyclists were well into the final climb.
"It's a feeling," Tschopp said of knowing when to push to the finish. "You just know when you have the legs and you have to go. It was intuitive."
He said he also knew he needed to go early enough to earn back some of the time Vande Velde and his teammates held over him in the overall race. He ended up finishing 43 seconds ahead of Leopold Koenig of Team NetApp with a time of 4:18:20. Dombrowski finished third.
Tschopp, who spoke through an interpreter, said he felt right at home in Utah's mountains.
"I prepared very well for the Tour of Utah," Tschopp said. "It's a race that is well-suited for me with its beautiful roads, a lot of mountains and mountains that suit me. It is somewhat similar to Valais in Switzerland, I had fun."
Putting on the jersey was a significant moment for the young rider and his team.
"For us, it's very important that we were able to win the stage and especially to be able to take the jersey, it's a great victory for the BMC Racing Team," he said. "And for me, it's a special moment, it is the first time that I wear the leader's jersey in a stage race."
Utahn Jeff Louder retained the Best Utah Rider jersey, in part because he rode most of the race in a breakaway with four other riders.
"UnitedHealthcare, we've been all week just being aggressive, trying to get results," said Louder after finishing 48th — a little more than eight minutes behind Tschopp. "Today we knew we didn't have anybody for the GC so, it's just look for an opportunity. Unfortunately it didn't work out."
He said there were no riders in GC contention in that breakaway group, so their intention was just to "try and make the race hard."
He said they will do the same in Sunday's final stage, which some riders see as even more challenging.
"Just see how we recover, and again, look for opportunities," said Louder of UHC's strategy. "It's obvious, we're completely out of the GC, so we'll just search for opportunities and try to fly the colors of UnitedHealthcare and try to make the race interesting. That's kind of our biggest goal."