South Jordan City, Utah — Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team’s Neilson Powless held onto the WCF Insurance Best Young Rider jersey and remains in the top five overall following Stage 4 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
In what was expected to be an easy day at “America’s Toughest Stage Race,” oppressive temperatures mixed with several mechanicals and a breakaway that reached almost six minutes meant the stage offered little respite.
Axeon Hagens Berman rider Christopher Lawless entered Thursday’s 201.1-kilometer stage motivated to defend his Utah Sports Commission Sprint jersey. Heading into the first intermediate sprint, he received a textbook lead-out from his teammates and took top honors. Yet later he was judged to have deviated from his line, which disrupted Mihkel Raïm’s (Israel Cycling Academy) progress. Lawless was relegated, and Raïm earned top points. Lawless’ teammate Rui Oliveira took second.
Axeon Race Director Jeff Louder said he was proud of the effort by Lawless and his teammates both in the sprint and the finish.
“I think the guys did a great job getting him [Chris] into position to win that first sprint,” said Louder. “The relegation obviously affected our podium result today because he ended up losing the jersey, but we respect the decision of the commissaries.”
With 20 km to go, Jonny Brown, Oliveira, and Jhonatan Narvaez took control of the peloton and helped chase back the duo off the front. All escapees were caught on the finishing circuits, and Axeon switched over to lead out duties.
In a well-executed finish, Logan Owen and Michael Rice placed Lawless into a near perfect position.
“There was a bit of a scrum in the last corner and Lawless struggled a bit holding the wheel, which is a part of bike racing,” said Louder. “I think the positive thing is that it was calmly played and they raced maturely and according to plan. We can take that and move forward.”
Heading into Friday’s Stage 5, an 184.4-km out-and-back meandering run from Layton to Bountiful with two Category 3 climbs, Axeon remains focused on moving Powless into a podium position in the general classification. He currently sits 38 seconds back from race leader Rob Britton (Rally Cycling).
“Neilson got through the day well and didn’t lose any time or have to work too hard thanks to the help of his teammates,” said Louder. “We’ve got opportunities over the next three days to go for stage wins and ideally move Neilson up in the GC.”
Powless is eager for tomorrow’s stage but believes the race is going to come down to the final climb on Stage 6.
“I think Snowbird is going to be the GC throw down,” said Powless.
Photo: Davey Wilson