Park City • It wasn’t a particularly long stage, but the inclines were real in the last stage of the Tour of Utah on Sunday. And race leader Ben Hermans made sure he was keeping tabs on his nearest rivals as the event culminated in Park City.
Hermans, wearing the yellow jersey and with a 46-second lead at the start of the day, kept pace with the closest contenders and ultimately clinched first place in the seven-day event.
“From the first time I did this race in 2014, I had a good feeling with this race,” said Hermans, who hails from Belgium. “Last year, I got second, and this year I win — so I’m really happy with the result.
“I’m also really happy with how the team [Israel Cycling Academy] worked for me this week,” added Hermans, who also won stages two and three in this year’s Tour of Utah. “We never really struggled. It was a really, really good week for us.”
Joe Dombrowski of Christiana, Delaware, was the winner of the sixth and last stage, which started and finished in Park City, and that boosted his finish in the general classification from fifth to third overall.
Canadian James Piccoli, who started the day in second, stayed in that overall position by placing fifth in Sunday’s stage.
Portugal’s Joao Almeida and Keegan Swirbul, from Colorado, finished second and third in Sunday’s stage to join Dombrowski on the podium.
“I didn’t really think too much about the GC. If you win a stage, there’s obviously a chance you can move up,” said Dombrowski about his jump in the overall standings. “I think I would prefer to race to win a stage than think about the GC.”
A group of 23 riders broke away from the peloton just before the stage went through Kamas. That group held together until a climb to Wolf Creek Ranch, east of Heber City.
As the riders turned north in Midway, heading back to Park City, most of the main contenders for overall championship — including Hermans — swept to the lead heading up a major incline to Empire Pass.
Dombrowski, Hermans and Piccoli were eventually formed a group of three heading to the summit. When Almeida joined the group, Piccoli dropped back temporarily although Piccoli and Swirbul would eventually climb back to Hermans’ group.
By the time they got there, however, Dombrowski had made his move. Three miles from the finish line, Dombrowski went over the top of Empire Pass with a 20-second lead.
Sunday’s stage traversed 85.1 miles and was the fourth stage in the Tour of Utah, now in its 15th year, to go between 80 and 90 miles long.
Riders afterward generally applauded the organizers’ decision to have shorter lengths than in years past or compared to other races.
“I think it was a good idea to shorten it,” said Travis McCabe, winner of the event’s best sprinter competition. “Everyone has a little bit fresher legs and also I don’t think it changes the results. No matter what, you were going to see Ben win today.”
“Bike racing has a script. The breakaway goes away and someone chases the breakaway. If it’s a stage where someone is pretty confident they could win, then they’re going to bring the breakaway back,” said Dombrowski, who followed the script successfully.
“There’s this whole sort of period in between where we’re all just sort of riding around,” he added. “And it’s not really interesting. In the Tour de France, that’s when they start showing helicopter shots of castles and whatever else. I think actually it’s a good move and you’ll see other races doing that.”