The climbers who will eventually claim hold of the Tour of Utah gave way to the sprinters Friday night as more than 100 cyclists circled the Rio Grande Depot for more than an hour before Argentina's Ricardo Escuela bolted between two teams of cyclists to claim victory.
Though the Garmin-Chipotle team set the tempo for much of the race, Rock Racing sent rider after rider to the front, setting up a second train of cyclists waiting for the moment to make their move.
The problem, however, is that Escuela was sitting quietly in their midst also plotting his move and waiting for the exact moment to charge.
The time came with about 500 meters to go as he saw a Rock Racing cyclist make a little move to see who would counter. That person was Team Successful Living's Escuela and he was followed by Freddie Rodriguez who stuck to Escuela's wheel as long as he could but was never able to get around the hard-charging Argentinean.
"He was following Rock Racing the whole way," teammate and interpreter Christian Valenzuela said. "He was in the front with about 300 meters to go and that was all he needed."
Rodriguez, known as "Fast Freddie" in the cycling world, is one of the top sprinters in any peloton he joins. After laying low for about 45 minutes, Rodriguez and Rock Racing began forming their leadout group of cyclists.
The Rock Racing crew, aiming primarily for a stage win here rather than an overall victory at the Tour of Utah, had its eye on chasing down and beating the powerful Garmin-Chipotle train that was six riders strong at times.
"He was really smart," Rodriguez said of Escuela. "He waited for us to make our moves. We had a guy go with about 500 left and he opened a little gap. I saw (Escuela) jump with about 400 and got past him with about 300 left. With a rider like that, it's really hard. To chase with a guy that has a quick snap like that is tough to do."
Placing second in the stage was not a disappointment for Rodriguez. The former Giro d'Italia stage winner woke up feeling ill with a stomach virus, he said, and considered dropping out of the race.
"In all, not even thinking I would be racing when I got up this morning, I can't be anything but pleased with how things went," he said. "I think it was a really strong race for us."
Toyota-United's Jonnie Clark finished third, winning the field sprint just a few blinks of an eye behind the winner, while Garmin-Chipotle's Blake Caldwell Thursday's stage winner and the overall leader was fourth. Rock Racing's Oscar Sevilla was fifth.
About 16 laps into the race, Toyota-United's Ben Day broke away from the field and held a solo lead for several laps. That lead eventually grew to about 17 seconds before Bissel's Teddy King bridged the gap to make it a two-man breakaway.
Before that, however, a pair of local riders from American RADD Cameron Hoffman and Luis Zamudio tried to bridge, only to be reabsorbed by the field in less than a lap.
King sat up on the 29th lap and Day was caught later that lap, setting up the final few laps of furious racing at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour.
Caldwell retains his lead and BMC's Darren Lill, finishing in the main pack to remain just four seconds back.
Salt Lake residents Jeff Louder (BMC) and Burke Swindlehurst remain within striking distance. Louder is fourth overall, just 24 seconds back and Swindlehurst is 28 seconds off the pace. Both are strong climbers and will be threats to win this afternoon.
Today's mountain stage from Park City to Snowbird will likely determine the winner of the race, though if there is still a gap of 30 seconds or less between the leaders, there will be plenty of suspense left for Sunday's finale at Miller Motor Sports Park's time trial.
Tour of Utah Stage 3
Downtown Salt Lake criterium
Winner: Ricardo Escuela splits a gap between the Garmin-Chipotle ad Rock Racing trains to pull away for the win.
Overall leader: Garmin-Chipotle's Blake Caldwell retained his lead of four seconds over BMC's Darren Lill.
Highlight: Local crit star Dave Harward attacked on the 13th lap. While he didn't hold any illusions of holding on for a win, he did manage to cross the start/finish line with the lead.
Online: A multimedia presentation of the criterium and Jared Eborn's notes and observations of the Tour of Utah.
Tomorrow: The queen stage is a brutal 98.1 mile race from Park City to Snowbird by way of Kamas, Midway and the Alpine Loop. With 14,778 feet of vertical gain, only the strongest climbers will survive. Caldwell won this stage in 2006 and will do everything in his power to hold on to the yellow jersey.
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