SNOWBIRD Garmin-Chipotle put all its effort into protecting the Tour of Utah's yellow jersey.
Jeff Louder put all of his effort in taking it away.
In the end, Salt Lake City's Louder riding for BMC Pro Cycling came out victorious in what is described at America's most challenging day of professional cycling, but he is still seven seconds away from wearing the coveted jersey.
"It was really an epic stage," said Louder, still gasping to catch his breath after racing for 98.6 miles and nearly 15,000 feet of uphill pedaling. "But this is what we prepared for. My team is a stage racing team. We came here to train just for this I had that in mind, and I couldn't let them down."
Louder did anything but let his team or the throng of cycling fans gathered at the mountaintop finish down.
Race leader Blake Caldwell, with three Garmin-Chipotle teammates shielding him and helping him conserve energy, jumped out to a 20-second lead shortly after the group of about 20 cyclists turned up the canyon.
Patiently waiting until just the right moment, though, Louder used his intimate knowledge of Little Cottonwood Canyon to pounce on Caldwell as they approached the Tanner's Flat area of the canyon and slowly pulled away over the final mile or two of the race crossing the line with a semi-comfortable 13-second advantage on Caldwell.
"The last five Ks seemed like forever," Caldwell said. "I guess he had more in the tank at the end."
The Tour of Utah now turns its attention to today's time trial at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele. While many thought the signature queen stage of the race beginning in Park City and ending at Snowbird would likely decide the ultimate winner, all it did was set up what will be an exciting finish as the contenders try to squeeze every second out of their legs in a 7.5-mile race against the clock.
Acknowledging he is probably a better time trialist, Louder said he is not taking anything for granted.
"I don't have the yellow jersey on," Louder said. "And he's obviously riding very well. If I don't beat him, he deserves to win. It's not a done deal by any means."
The other hopefuls for spots in the final podium include Team Type 1's Glen Chadwick a former New Zealand national time trial champion and a 2008 Olympian who is just 42 seconds off the lead, and Salt Lake City's Burke Swindlehurst.
The Bissel climbing specialist came in fourth Saturday afternoon and sits 1:02 off the overall pace, but only 20 seconds away from the podium.
Saturday's drama didn't limit itself to the finish line, though.
After a small group of cyclists broke away from the pack heading out of Kamas toward the Jordanelle Reservoir, the Heber Creeper train cut between the break and the peloton, forcing the larger group to stop and wait for the road to clear.
That allowed the break to widen its lead to about 4:30 as they made the turn down Provo Canyon.
After turning up the Alpine Loop, Rock Racing's Michael Creed attacked at Sundance. He opened up a solo gap over nearly two minutes by the time he hit the summit and then descended like a mad man. With crowded narrow roads in front of him and hungry cyclists behind, Creed crouched as low as he could get and flew down the mountain at speeds topping 60 mph at times.
Alone, however, was not the place to be as the power of the peloton reeled him in. With just a 40-second lead turning up the highway to South Mountain and Suncrest, Creed was swallowed up by the chase group early in the ascent.
From there, it was a cat-and-mouse game with about 30 cyclists waiting to hit Little Cottonwood. First Rock Racing's Oscar Sevilla attacked, but his lead was short-lived. Caldwell followed, wanting to add a few seconds to his overall lead if possible.
But Louder was the strongest man of the day and picked his time."I've ridden this enough times this year to know where the landmarks are and where I can get the best out of myself," Louder said. "Once I got to the final crux, before it flattens out from eight percent to six percent, I knew that if I could get a gap I could get it rolling. Once I had a nice gap I set my sights on Caldwell. Once I caught him I went for the line all the way. I knew I could go 500 meters all out."
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