Team Champion System Tour of Utah Report: Stage 1

We're happy to have Assistant Director Burke Swindlehurst from UCI Pro Team Champion System as a guest blogger this week, reporting on his team's experiences in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

Ogden to Ogden: 131.6 miles/211.9km - View Stage 1 Route Map

The first stage of the 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah appeared to be somewhat of a proclamation to the cycling world that the event which bills itself as "America's toughest stage race" is not in the game of merely paying lip service.

With five significant climbs and temperatures tickling the 100-degrees-Fahrenheit mark, this 131-mile stage put the hurt on much of the peloton, and after it was all said and done, only 40 riders of the 129 starting the race made it to the finish line at the same time.

After a 1km neutral roll out, the action started immediately with most teams making substantial efforts to put riders in the early breakaway.

Will Clarke Team Champion System's Will Clarke

After 10 miles of failed attempts by other groups, four riders finally broke free of the field and soon established a 2-minute gap. Having placed riders in the initial breakaway attempts, it appeared that our Champion System team had missed out on the breakaway. Just as the field seemed to be content to let this group roll for the day, Will Clarke jumped solo and -- after fighting for nearly 25 minutes on his own -- finally joined the quartet of riders at the front of affairs, assuring that Team Champion System would be represented. This group of five riders would gain nearly 12 minutes on the field by the midway point.

Focusing his efforts on the sprint competition, Will managed to win both of the first two sprints in the towns of Morgan and Henefer and looked to be on his way to taking a serious stab at pulling on the jersey for best sprinter by day's end. Unfortunately, two mechanical's -- culminating in a bike-change three-quarters of the way into the race -- took it's toll on Will and, after having chased back twice, it looked as if his day was over when a Colombian rider accelerated on the penultimate climb up the backside of the climb known locally as "Trapper's Loop." Though succumbing to the pace on the slopes of the climb, Will and Optum's Jesse Anthony fought hard to claw their way back to their breakaway companions in the Eden valley before starting the final ascent up the backside of the notorious North Ogden Divide climb.

Meanwhile, the pace in the field had been lifted dramatically, and by the time the breakaway riders had begun churning up the "Divide," the peloton was hot on their heels. Within half a kilometer of beginning the climb, all of the original breakaway riders had been absorbed and the reset button hit.

After being well-positioned by his Champion System teammates, Chris Bulter found himself covering attacks on the slopes of the 12-percent climb. He crested the summit in great position before making the blazing descent back into the Ogden Valley, where he would ultimately finish 24th on the stage -- one place ahead of last year's overall Tour of Utah winner, Levi Leipheimer,  and on the same finish time as United Health Care's Rory Sutherland (who took the spoils on the day with Damian Caruso of Liquigas and Brent Bookwalter of BMC rounding out the podium).

Tomorrow's team time trial at the Miller Motor Sports Park promises even hotter temperatures on the track and will favor not only a team with strength, but one with coordination, as well. It covers three laps of a course containing 11 corners.

I, for one, am very much looking forward to see how our Champion System boys do against the clock!


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