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Tour of Utah: Belgian Van Avermaet steals Stage 1 victory

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Team Garmin-Sharp rider David Zabriskie warms up before the start of the Tour of Utah at Brian Head Tuesday August 6, 2013.

By Christopher Kamrani

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 06 2013 11:22AM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:32PM

Cedar City • Hours passed, but Greg Van Avermaet still was just another rider in the swarming, multicolored peloton chasing down the two breakaway cyclists who owned the lead for nearly four hours after the pedals began to churn Tuesday morning near Brian Head Resort.

But once the snaking group of riders eventually caught up and swallowed leaders Chris Jones and Michael Torckler, it was a free-for-all in the streets of Cedar City for the yellow jersey in the 112-mile Stage 1 at the 2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

German legend Jens Voigt pushed to the front at one point. Then Optum Pro Cycling made a move. Orica GreenEdge Cycling was right there.

With the peloton disjointed and riders digging for whatever remaining vitality remained in their veins, Van Avermaet went rogue.

The Belgian BMC Racing Team pro broke off from the pack, splintering off to the right of the group gunning for a jersey and a shot at flowers and accompanying kisses on the cheek.

"You have to try to take the risk to try to go for a win," Van Avermaet said.

High risk, high reward.

Van Avermaet (4 hours, 10 minutes, 50 seconds) broke free with 700 meters to go and crossed the finish line solo, a plethora of riders charging in behind him in desperation to catch the sudden race leader.

The plan for BMC was to attack the last kilometer of the race, and as Van Avermaet said, the plan didn’t go according to plan, which resulted in him flipping the switch and going for the win.

Australian Michael Matthews of Orica GreenEdge, a talented young sprinter, finished second, and much like Van Avermaet, said his attack didn’t go according to plan from the get-go.

"It came down to the last [kilometer], and Greg slipped away," Matthews said. "Once he was gone, we knew we couldn’t get him back.

"It’s hard when you’re so focused on the first stage and your team works all day and someone slips away in the final. That’s racing. You can’t win every race."

Torckler knows that more than anyone. The New Zealander on BISSELL Pro Cycling is in the process of returning to form after being the victim of a hit-and-run in Northern California in June 2012 that left him hospitalized with multiple skull fractures and a broken arm.

He said he’s been nervous in his first few races back from a long recovery, but he’s starting to regain his confidence and level of comfort on the saddle. Torckler was rewarded for his incredible start and pace-setting with the Ski Utah King of the Mountain jersey, his "first result since that car accident."

While Torckler would have preferred to be on the center of the podium and sporting yellow instead of white, he knew that it was only a matter of time before the peloton filled with some of the top riders in the sport made its move.

"It was inevitable unless we had five minutes starting off," he said, chuckling. "It wasn’t going to happen."

Torckler was right.

It was Van Avermaet who took the risk, who sat back and stalked and made the move on a suddenly wide open peloton. It was Van Avermaet who ended his day holding a bouquet of flowers staring out at a sea of spectators, a black velvet cowboy hat atop his head and kisses on each cheek.

ckamrani@sltrib.com

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