To most a top-20 on the General Classification and a top-five in the Young Rider’s Competition might not sound like a big goal, but it was the bar we had set ourselves going into the UCI 2.HC Larry H. Millar Tour of Utah.
We were a last minute call-up into the race when another team pulled out, opening up an opportunity for our young team. It is not often a first-year continental team is invited to “America’s Toughest Stage Race”. Even American teams have to work hard to get an invitation, but it was our results throughout the first half of the season that showed the race organisers that we were deserving.
Lining up against five World Tour teams, the best American Pro-Continental teams and a peloton full of hungry and extremely well-prepared Continental teams, we were the youngest, newest and smallest. Despite being given a fair warning about what we were in for, nothing could have prepared us for a week of health battles and crashes, of very limited sleep for the staff and, of course, extremely tough, high-level racing.
We had everything thrown at us during our week-long ride from Cedar City in southern Utah to the scenic Park City, but we made it. We have never competed against such a talented and high level of professional riders, nor had we experienced completing in a race that took the race up hour-long climbs day after day. But we made it. We lost a few great men along the way, but nothing could stop the team from racing with heart and determination to achieve our goals.
We finished in Park City with Angus Lyons fifth on the Young Riders Classification and 19th on the General Classification. A massive achievement for this young team.
Prior to the race start, we all flew into Park City to adapt to the heat (the average across the whole week was 37 degrees!) and the altitude. As the days ticked down and we began to prepare for the prologue, we were reminded of our team mission and why a race like the Tour of Utah is so important. Without races like this and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour back home, there are limited opportunities to race against professional cyclists at the top level of our sport.
As they say, “the best way to prepare yourself for racing at the World Tour is by racing against the World Tour”.
We were pumped. Our seven-man team were bursting to get the race underway. Unfortunately, we did not get off to a desired start with Conor Murtagh and Ben Carman both contracting viruses, by stage one end we were down to just five riders. With that, our objectives had to change, it is impossible to chase down breakaway and share responsibility on the front while also saving riders to protect and race with Angus on the climbs. It was time to play the game a little more conservatively, improving Angus’ position on the general classification became our sole focus.
Some stage races begin with ‘easy’, flat stages finishing in a bunch sprint in order to ease the peloton into the week ahead. Not the Tour of Utah. Right smack bang in the middle of stage one was a one-hour climb, but we gained confidence when four of our riders made it over the climb in the front group and we witnessed for the first time the incredible fitness Angus had carried into the race.
Disaster struck again on stage three when our new American recruit, Russell Finsterwald suffered a nasty crash and had to be transported to hospital, ending his race prematurely. We were thankful to report that Russell sustained no serious injuries. However, we were now down to just four riders with the hardest three stages of racing still to come.
Jesse Coyle, Peter Livingstone and Connor Brown worked together beyond all expectations to protect Angus throughout the final stages. The universe threw everything at us with badly timed puncture and a dropped chain at the base of Snowbird, but even throughout the toughest times, we continued to improve Angus’ general classification position.
For those able to catch the live coverage on Eurosport Australia, you will know just how beautiful this race is and how intense six-days of mountainous racing can be. For those who were unable to see the race, the team has provided their reflections on how they experienced the Larry H. Millar tour of Utah.
Jesse CoyleThe Tour of Utah, for me, was both extremely exciting and unforgiving. The first two days I was suffering physically, which cemented my place as a domestique for the week. Getting bottles and helping the guys stay out of the wind for the first half of each stage meant I was starting the massive climbs already spent. The spectators on the side of the road were so enthusiastic even though I was often the last rider coming through 10-15 minutes behind the bunch. The spectacle of the race made it very exciting with crowds, barriers, music, promotional material all throughout Utah. I really got a taste of what it’s like to be a professional bike rider.
Despite that, there were elements of the race which were terrifying. Flying down descents in a 100+ man peloton, swinging wide across six-lane motorways really challenged my nerve and confidence as a rider and is something that caught me out many times. I found myself drifting back to the back of the bunch to give myself some margin of error if a crash did happen, which is something you just can’t do if you want to be a useful rider and teammate in the bunch.
Connor BrownThere is a certain romanticism surrounding this race with the atmosphere and energy, unlike anything I had ever experienced. The altitude, heat and relentless climbs all contributing to the Tour’s notorious reputation of being one of the hardest courses to compete on. For me lining up to race against riders I idolised like Sam Bewley and Joe Dombrowski was a dream come true and a testament to just how far the team has progressed in the sport. The Tour of Utah taught us to think on our feet and really race together as a unit without which we could not have competed at this level. However, despite being an incredible learning curve the riders and staff all rose to the occasion and we can all be immensely proud of our young team. We came into the tour as underdogs, but we certainly didn’t leave that way.
Aden ReynoldsThe Tour of Utah was my first time as a DS for the team, and I’m happy to say I managed to keep the car on the road. It was great to be involved in such a professional and well-organised event. The National parks and mountains in Utah made for some very difficult racing, but also some spectacular views. And despite the near 40-degree heat each day, the course was always filled with many fans and spectators who made the atmosphere each day. Highlights for me included being in the team car watching guys hold their own and remain calm when things didn’t go their way. I’m not sure which team had the most flat tyres during the tour, but we would have been close to winning that classification.
The lowlights was watching Tom Petty use his self-proclaimed ‘superior bottle filing method’ that took him ten minutes to fill four bottles. Remembering there was 60+ bottles to fill each day…
Russell FinterswaldRacing in the Tour of Utah was a highlight of my career, despite only making it 2.5 stage before crashing out. In mountain biking, the efforts are very individual and we miss out on the camaraderie that comes with road racing. Riding in support of Gus was a great experience and to see him put together a solid ride was great to see. Mobius was a bit of an underdog going up against teams with so much more equipment and support, but I don’t think that stopped any of us from believing in ourselves and going out there to battle. Tom, Sam, Aden and Aaron did an incredible job of taking care of all of us so we could perform at our best in the next stages.
Peter LivingstoneThere’s no doubt this is America’s toughest stage race. A high-quality field combined with extremely difficult terrain made being on the start line even more daunting. Utah’s course and climate were two major challenges we had to overcome. Racing an entire tour above 2000m, containing long steep climbs and temperatures well over 35 degrees Celsius meant our preparation had to be very precise. The actual race was action-packed. Most breakaways took over an hour to form, unpredictable weather and a ripper field combined to make some of the most exciting racing all year. It was a privilege to be a part of the Tour of Utah, rubbing shoulders with the best, being in a constant state of fatigue my body hasn’t felt before, and taking on our biggest team challenge to date with a fantastic group of teammates. I’m already excited for next year.
Angus LyonsWe came into the race with some of the best form we’ve ever had despite only having about 4-5 weeks notice. The altitude was hard, what felt like breathing through a straw for three weeks whilst simultaneously watching your heart rate maxing out whilst hitting numbers you hit at 17 wasn’t confidence boosting. We reconned some of the climbs, breathing in the smell of burning brakes and burning clutches as cars struggled with the gradients. At that point an emergency phone call was made to Tom, in short, “Help! We need smaller gears.” A few weeks of training including some encouragement from a couple of mountain lions and a close call with a moose, and the team was assembled and as ready as we were going to get.
Going in we knew it was a prestigious race, we knew it was a hard race, we knew it had big climbs and big altitude. What we didn’t know was what to really expect, how we would be coping physically and mentally by the final day and how a little Aussie conti team was going to stack up against some of the biggest teams in the world.
It was a real blow losing Conor after the prologue. He’s usually our road captain and one of the best guys at steering you around the bunch so you can just hold his wheel and switch off for a while. By stage three we had lost both Ben and Russell as well, two more strong guys gone and less of a presence in the peloton to hold position with. Two less guys to share the load of getting bottles, jumping for breaks and sitting in the wind. It was a bit demoralising knowing we were starting each day with a handicap compared to teams that had potentially been racing at this level for years. After we finished losing riders we started on the mechanicals and flats. Each of the last three days we started thinking”surely this is the day it goes our way”. On the final day it did, I got to test my legs against some of the best in the world and, whilst I didn’t quite measure up, it showed me where I need to be and I proved to myself that I have the ability to get there. I think the team showed its resilience and tenacity as well as gaining a feel for racing at that level which I believe will translate to better preparation next year and better racing for the rest of the season.