Tour of Utah #1: Johann van Zyl finishes 5th on opening stage


Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung got the Tour of Utah off to a great start with Johann van Zyl taking 5th place after a 200km long breakaway. The stage win went to Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare).

With a long 212km stage on the cards today, Johann “vanSnail” threw caution to the wind and attacked with 6 other riders after just 6km of racing. The 7 escapees combined well to forge out a solid lead of just over 14 minutes. It would be a long day of hard work out front though for our young South African and his breakaway mates.

United Healthcare and Cannondale-Garmin began the initial chase with still 160km to go and the 14 minute gap to the leaders slowly started to decrease. The only real obstacle of the day was the Cat 2 climb that topped out with just less than 60km to go. It was on this climb that the breakaway was reduced to just 3 riders, Johann, Gregory Daniel (Axeon) and Emerson Oronte (SmartStop).

The 3 leaders still had a 5’30” gap with a 50km gradual descent to the line left to race. What was going against them though was the fact that it was now around 5 or 6 teams who would be committing to the chase and they had a strong headwind to contend with. Johann certainly looked the strongest of the 3 leaders and with 10km to go it was down to just Johann and Daniel with the peloton now a minute back.

Attacks soon came from the main bunch once the duo were within sight and the eventual stage winner Reijnen, along with Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin) and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) would bridge across to the 2 original leaders with just 3km to go. The five put their heads down and made it with 4 seconds to spare over the charging peloton. Howes took 2nd, Phinney 3rd, Daniel 4th and Johann was 5th while also winning the most aggressive rider jersey for his troubles.

Johann van Zyl – Rider
Today was probably the easiest I’ve ever gotten into a break. I knew if a biggish group got a big enough gap there would be the possibility to survive. With my first jump I managed to get across to the 6 other riders and we quickly got the 14 minute gap.  My confidence grew with every minute we gained. Over the last climb we were only 3 left and I drove it as hard as possible to try and make it to the end. Eventually I lived up to my nickname and finished 5 out of 5, but I am super happy to have the most aggressive jersey. This week I want to race as hard as possible to get into my best shape and hopefully make my grand tour debut in Spain.

Jean-Pierre Heynderickx – Sport Director
It was a very strong ride by Johann today. It was only due to a bit of bad luck, the strong headwind  in the canyon after the climb that stopped the break from arriving at the line alone. Johann was the strongest but with the headwind he needed the help of the others so he had to wait until the small climbs at the end to try attack them but then it was too late.

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