The 3rd stage of the Tour of Utah was yet again, a good one for Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung. Johann van Zyl pulled on the King of the Mountains jersey and Natnael Berhane sprinted to a fine 6th place at the finish.
The day started with 6 riders forming the main break of the day. Johann placed himself in this early move and with 4 categorised climbs on route, the young South African was in a prime position to go for the King of the Mountains jersey. United Healthcare kept the escapees on a short leash as they were a bit weary of “VanSnails” fire power.
However, Johann was able to claim maximum points on the first cat 2 and cat 3 climbs of the day, this was already enough to secure the jersey. With the final 2 climbs coming in the last 25km, it would turn into an important GC day and so our African team then focused on ensuring Natnael Berhane was in the best position possible for these two climbs.
Johann’s break was caught on the penultimate climb, except for Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing) who went solo. There was a huge push in the peloton and both Songezo Jim and Adrien Niyonshuti marked the attacks. Over the top Rosskopf had a 20″ lead which he held all the way around until we started the climb for the final time. Again there were attacks from the peloton but Natnael was all over it. Nearing the top of the climb Natnael would attack and quickly got 15″ over a select group of 13 riders.
Unfortunately for Natnael the descent didn’t start straight away and there was a general regrouping of the peloton on the false flat. This reduced peloton would catch Natnael with 4km to go and it was then down to a 48 rider bunch sprint. It would be a photo finish and our Eritrean national champion was right in the frame to take 6th, only half a bike length from the win! The victory went to Logan Owen (Axeon Cycling Team).
Johann van Zyl – Rider
It wasn’t really the plan for me to go in the break today but there was a lull just before the sprint so I jumped across to the leaders with a BMC guy. It was then just about rolling through until the climbs. I had already picked up 9 points the other day in the KOM competition so it was a good opportunity to get the jersey. I managed to gain enough points so I’m pretty happy to have the jersey now. In the final, once I knew I had the jersey it was just about saving the legs for the next few days.
It was another good stage for our team today. The other day in the bus we spoke about Johann taking the KOM jersey at some point because he scored some points, today he went and got it. He was excellent again but so were all the guys. They kept Natnael in a good position all day and brought him to a good spot before the final 2 important climbs. He was strong and could stay with the favourites, and even put in an attack. At the finish he took 6th place and this is a good result for us.