Familiarity with Utah's mountain roads paid big dividends for BMC Pro Cycling's Darren Lill.
Lill's countless hours of training on the Tour of Utah courses had the Salt Lake resident and South Africa native out in front but also gave a huge advantage to Blake Caldwell.
As a result, Caldwell followed Lill's line down the treacherous descent of Big Mountain toward the finish line at the University Health Orthopedic Center and pulled ahead just before the finish to win the sprint and the Stage 2 victory Thursday.
In the process, he had enough of an advantage over his teammate, Jason Donald, to keep the race leader's yellow jersey in the family.
"We were just riding to keep the jersey," said Caldwell, who finished the stage in 3:30:21. "We wanted to have one person up in the break if there was one. That way, if Jason couldn't keep it, we'd have somebody up there to get it."
Caldwell has a four-second advantage over Lill in the overall standings, with Donald 18 seconds back and Jeff Louder nicely positioned at 24 seconds out of the yellow jersey.
Nine riders, including Salt Lake's Burke Swindlehurst, are in a group just 28 seconds off the lead.
Lill, a climbing specialist, powered up the back side of Big Mountain from East Canyon with a few other cyclists before he found himself alone with Caldwell on his wheel. Slowly building their lead to nearly a minute, the duo held off a hard-charging chase group led by Salt Lake's Louder and Swindlehurst.
"(Lill) was definitely railing it down the descent," Caldwell said. "I just had to follow his line and make my move on that last turn."
The winner of the monstrous queen stage to Snowbird in the 2006 Tour of Utah, Caldwell isn't exactly a stranger to cycle climbing in Utah. With that experience in his mind, he was able to confidently chase any attack up the mountains while patiently plotting his winning move.
Covering 84.6 miles and including 10,585 feet of climbing, Stage 2 was the first day of real climbing in the five-day race. With the first climb jumping up the North Ogden Pass, the peloton split quickly. Climbers took off and built a big gap over the rest of the field. By the time the race reached the climb to Trappers Loop outside Snowbasin, only 40 or 50 cyclists remained in the lead group.
The group further fragmented as the race approached East Canyon Reservoir, and a breakaway of eight cyclists pushed the pace.
Eventually, the break was down to three cyclists, including BMC's Ian McKissick, and then the final two.
Swindlehurst and Louder pushed the pace themselves after the leaders and were only 17 seconds back when they reached the Big Mountain summit.
"Darren and Jeff are the last guys I'd want ahead of me," Swindlehurst said. "Darren knew every inch of the course, so I knew we had to get close to them ...But ... they held us off."
Louder, who finished third on the day after winning the slight uphill sprint against the field, is pleased with the way his team is situated heading into tonight's downtown criterium. The chase group was 18 seconds back, while the yellow jersey group with Donald riding was 38 seconds behind the leaders.
"It's really the ideal situation," Louder said. "We get to let the others do the hard work to hold onto the jersey while we save ourselves for Saturday."
Swindlehurst, likewise, is in solid shape.
"I'm feeling pretty good and optimistic about what I can do on Saturday," he said. "This race is far from over."That makes two wins in two days for the Garmin-Chipotle squad, but hardly means the race is over. With three stages left, teams like BMC, Bissell and Health Net are keeping their top riders close to the lead while saving energy for Saturday's sufferfest from Park City to Snowbird.
Tour of Utah Stage 2 Ogden to Salt Lake City
Winner: Blake Caldwell, Garmin-Chipotle
Overall leader: Caldwell
Highlight: BMC's Darren Lill set the pace up Big Mountain. and Caldwell held his wheel down the descent before pulling ahead for the sprint finish.
Online: Check out Jared Eborn's blog with news, notes and other observations from Stage 2 of the tour.Today: Stage 3 will be a crowd-pleasing criterium around the Rio Grande Depot in downtown Salt Lake City. The four-corner, one-mile course will feature speed galore and probably a few crashes. Action starts at 7 p.m.
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