For Rally Cycling, the day would be dedicated to delivering Rob Britton to the base of Snowbird in position to climb high in the general classification. It would not be an easy task with two brutal climbs in the second half of the stage. At the end of the day, the battle for the yellow jersey would rage on the climb to Snowbird. As Andrew Talansky, Lachlan Morton and Darwin Atapuma fought for the stage and overall lead, Britton was one of the only riders in the race able to stay close to their decisive accelerations, and crossed the line an impressive fifth.
The result moved Britton up one spot on the overall standings, into fifth. One day of intense climbing, featuring the monumental Empire Pass, remains to sort out the final podium.
The 185-kilometer stage six of the Tour of Utah started at the Snowbasin resort before dropping to the valley below. The descent allowed 13 riders to escape off the front. In the break for Rally Cycling was Emerson Oronte. Once off the descent, the peloton started climbing and wouldn’t stop until the top of Guardsman Pass. In addition to Oronte, the breakaway contained Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel), Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), Dion Smith (ONE Pro Cycling), Chad Beyer (Lupus), Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman), Ben King (Cannondale-Drapac), Jonathon Fumeaux (IAM Cycling), Rick Zabel (BMC), Stephen Bassett (Jamis), Daniel Eaton (UnitedHealthcare) and Kris Dahl (Silber).
On the false flats to the base of Guardsman Pass, the breakaway extended its advantage to over for minutes. However, it wouldn’t last long as the breakaway crumbled on the upper slopes of the ascent. Oronte, Beyer, King and Eaton separated themselves near the top and crossed the King of the Mountains line with an advantage of just 1:15 on the closing peloton. On the long 25-kilometer descent, King pushed the pace but the quartet was unable to add to their advantage.
As the riders made their way to the base of the final climb to Snowbird Resort, the skies opened up and rain started to fall on the riders. At the bottom of Snowbird the four riders held an advantage of 1:10. As the climb started Oronte dropped back to the yellow jersey group to provide extra support for Britton.
Once on the climb, King distanced himself from the remnants of the breakaway and with 9-kilometers to go still had 1:00 advantage. Behind King, it was his Cannondale-Drapac teammates setting the pace. Cannondale-Drapac continued their charge up the ascent, reducing the peloton to just a handful of riders. Britton was isolated, but remained near the front, never dropping down further than fourth wheel.
When the skies cleared and the sun came out, Darwin Atapuma (BMC) attacked and quickly opened a gap. Andrew Talansky was the first to respond, although it took him several hundred meters to close the gap. Once he made contact with Atapuma, Talansky went to the front and drove the pace. Behind the duo, race leader Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) struggled to cross the expanding gap and was joined by Adrien Costa (Axeon Hagens Berman). The biggest casualty in the battle between Talanskey and Morton was Britton, who was unable to follow the accelerations high on the slopes of Snowbird. Britton held steady and limited his time losses, crossing the line fifth and moving up to fifth on the general classification.
The scene on Little Cottonwood Canyon is vibrant and reminiscent of Europe's biggest races. Even a flash rainstorm replete with thunder didn't slow down the enthusiastic crowd from celebrating the race together. Almost as soon as the storm hit, it was gone, and the high mountain sunshine evaporated most of the wetness in time for the race's leaders, including Rally Cycling's Rob Britton, to attack the relentless slopes.
We met Merriann and John on the slopes of Little Cottonwood Canyon, looking fit and happy.
"We've been riding forever. Riding a lot of miles for the past 15 years. We ride in the mornings and it sets the pace for the whole day. Takes the edge off. 5:30 every morning. We average between 160 and 200 miles a week."