SNOWBIRD —After riding 90 miles and climbing nearly 8,000 feet on a bicycle — with another six miles and 2,500 feet of vertical gain to go — the road heading up Little Cottonwood Canyon might seem like an odd place to seek out a snack.
But that's what Alex Howes did en route to winning Stage 4 of the Tour of Utah. When a spectator offered a hot dog, he grabbed it.
"I saw it and it looked good," said Howes, who won a pair of U-23 national cycling championships recently riding for the Felt-Holowesko Partners team. "I took a bite of it and attacked."
In his wake, Howes left not only the remnants of his hot dog but his opponents as he motored up the final few miles for the victory — crossing the finish line at Snowbird 37 seconds ahead of Burke Swindlehurst.
The win came after 96 miles and more than 10,000 feet of climbing for the 140 cyclists — around the Jordanelle Reservoir, over the Alpine Loop and Suncrest and then the climb to Snowbird. And on one of Utah's hottest days this year.
The team car "kept telling me the end was right around the corner. I wanted to punch him because I went around a lot of corners," Howes said.
Yellow jersey-wearer Francisco Mancebo, riding for Rock Racing, was third across the line at 1:22 back and held on to his overall lead.
Howes was the surviving rider out of a group of nine who attacked the field shortly after leaving Park City.
Swindlehurst appeared to be the favorite in the breakaway group. Trailing by 3 minutes in the overall standings, he had two teammates with him in the break and the luxury of resting a little while his fellow Bissell Pro Cycling riders did much of the work out front.
The group's lead grew to as much as eight minutes, according to the official's race radio, before the riders left Provo Canyon and began a long haul past Sundance to the summit. Bissell's Jeremy Vennell put in a hard pull to start the canyon then pulled off, his work done for the day.
From there, the group of eight — including Howes, Swindlehurst and Ben Jaques-Mayne — soldiered on.
After cresting the summit, the group descended American Fork Canyon at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour. But at mile 59, Swindlehurst suffered a flat tire and had to wait for help. After a fast wheel change, Swindlehurst blazed a trail down the mountain to catch the group a few miles later.
They stayed together for the next 30 miles, topping the Suncrest summit with a lead of nearly five minutes.
Jaques-Maynes, who started the day with a one-second advantage over Swindlehurst, led the charge up Little Cottonwood.
"It went to plan," Swindlehurst said. "The idea was to send myself and two guys up the break.... I've never had teammates work so hard for me before. They made it possible for me to sit on as long as I could."
It wasn't quite enough for Swindlehurst and the thousands of fans lining the road hoping to see a local cycling star win the stage.
"I feel terrible that I wasn't able to come through for them," Swindlehurst said. "They slaughtered themselves for me."
At one point, Swindlehurst's lead was enough to put him in yellow jersey. But Mancebo closed the gap with an impressive climb and finished just 1:22 behind and in third place on the day.
That effort was more than enough to keep him in yellow. And it sets him up for an overall Tour of Utah championship if he can just stay out of trouble during today's Stage 5 criterium race around Washington and Library Squares in downtown Salt Lake City.
The pros begin their race at 2 p.m. but there are several citizen races throughout the morning and a kids race around the course just before the pros take to the road at speeds averaging 35 miles per hour or more for 90 minutes of four-corner action.
Tour of Utah
Stage 4: Park City to Snowbird, 96 miles.
Winner: Felt-Holowesko's Alex Howes in 4:07:12.
Overall leaders: Rock Racing's Francisco Mancebo. Team Type 1's Darren Lill at 46 seconds behind and BMC's Jeff Louder at 1:29 back.
Stage 5: Today, downtown Salt Lake criterium. 90 minutes. Starts at 2 p.m.
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