Tour of Utah: Sutherland wins stage 1 — with lots of support

Published August 8, 2012 9:16 am

Tour of Utah • Support cars, which trail the peloton, can be crucial to success.
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Ogden • Michael Tamayo peers intently through rimless glasses as he turns past the finish line, trying to make out the order of colored jerseys over 100 feet away. The first riders had just completed the opening stage of the Tour of Utah on Tuesday afternoon, and the UnitedHealthcare team director was eager to find out the result.

"Looks like BMC won," said Tamayo, a slim man with short hair and sharp features. "If I had to guess, we were second or third. That's if I had to guess right now."

A guess was the best he could do. Support cars, after all, are stuck behind the peloton for most of the race, tuned into the action mostly through a radio strapped to the passenger headrest.

Roughly 30 seconds later, Tamayo pulled the team's Volkswagen Jetta into the Ogden Marriott parking lot to be greeted by even better news: Their own Rory Sutherland had seized the yellow jersey and a 10-second bonus for Wednesday's team time trial. After a race mostly led by powerhouse teams RadioShack and Garmin, it was the Australian who burst to a lead on the final turn, jumping from roughly third or fourth as the riders pulled onto 25th Street.

"I've been trying to win one of these for six years in the U.S.," said Sutherland, referring to his finishes in the three major U.S. races — the two others being the Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. "I've got enough experience to do it now, I guess."

It was a sweet finish for the support staff as well, which performs the grunt work of providing water, energy drink mixes and ice bags for its cycling team. The job doesn't sound glamorous or exciting, but the seamless operation of logistics is crucial to success.

But it's not a role for those who can't handle pressure. Each team has two support cars, which means more than 30 hatchbacks — Audi, Lexus, Subaru, and so forth — all driving within 3 to 5 feet of each other on a two-lane mountain road. There's little room for error as cars squeeze past each other to hand off supplies to their riders.

Last year, UnitedHealthcare sprinter Jake Keough found himself hurtling through the back of an Italian car after he turned a corner. Despite being thrown through glass, he picked himself up and continued the race after some heated yelling, suffering cuts that looked worse than they were.

"His arm looked like something out of a horror movie," Tamayo said.

Rider safety comes first, so cars err toward each other when pressed for room. There's an unspoken etiquette among drivers, but heated exchanges sometimes still pop up. In one past race, an Argentine driver angrily punched the side mirror off of UnitedHealthcare's car.

The more run-of-mill part of the work is important as well. Each car is prepped the same way before every race, ensuring that the driver knows where everything is at a moment's notice — CytoMax Energy Drops on the door, ClifBars in the center console.

"It's all about a simple, routine system for the driver," Tamayo said. "The riders know the system as well. They know what to ask for because they know what we have."

Head mechanic Jorge Romero puts it a little differently as he scrambles for water bottles and spare wheels: "It's a systematic chaos."

Not too different from the race itself. —


R UnitedHealthcare's Rory Sutherland wins Stage 1, earning a 10-second bonus for Wednesday's team time trial.

• Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team) finish second and third.

• UnitedHealthcare support cars were momentarily in the dark about race results, having spent most of the 131 miles at the back of the peloton.



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