EDEN — With 3 miles remaining in the difficult ascent up Powder Mountain — and with the peloton withering behind him — 2013 Tour of Utah champion Tom Danielson sensed an opportunity.
Danielson lifted from his saddle, reached for another gear that only he could sustain, then churned his way up one of the steepest finishes in Tour of Utah history to earn the Stage 4 win and take over the yellow jersey as the race's overall leader.
"We knew it was going to be tough when the BMC team has so many guys up front all day," Danielson said. "When it was time to go I put up my hand for my teammates, who turned themselves inside out for me today."
When Danielson made his initial move just miles from the finish, only one rider, Chris Horner, could stay with him.
But only for a moment.
"I was pretty stoked that Chris was right there and I could hear him breathing behind me," Danielson said. "I just tried to keep a steady and consistent pace to the top."
That steady pace allowed Danielson to break the Tour of Utah wide open. The American rider steadily pulled away up the final ascent and earned the stage victory by 57 seconds over Horner and German rider Ben Hermans.
Horner, who battled a bronchial infection throughout this year's Tour de France, said despite all the medication he's taking to beat the illness he felt pretty good all day.
"Not sure I could have done any better today," Horner said. "I'm taking a lot of medications, but all I know is it's not a good idea to race the Tour de France and then come here to try and get healthy."
For the first three days of the Tour of Utah, the peloton cruised along like it was out for a Sunday stroll. That all changed during Thursday's 104-mile stage from Ogden to the base of Powder Mountain
Although a group of 15 riders broke from the pack early, they never got more than a minute in front of the main group.
As the riders entered the final 6 miles, which featured a 16 percent grade and 3,000 feet of vertical climb, that main group was pared to 25 riders.
By the time Danielson made his move, only a handful of riders remained in contact.
The BMC Racing Team was near the front of the race all day and as Hermans noted, they had a specific goal in mind.
"Our plan was to control the race, make sure we covered every break, and see if we could get Cadel Evans to the top," Hermans said.
Evans, the 2011 Tour de France winner, finished well back in the stage and is currently in ninth place, 2:46 behind the leader.
As it played out, Thursday's stage belonged to Danielson's Garmin-Sharp team, and its lead rider didn't hesitate to acknowledge his teammates afterward.
"We were under a lot of pressure all day," Danielson said. "It was really chaotic out there at times, but every single guy on our team suffered today for me and I couldn't be prouder of the team."
Friday's stage shifts to the Uinta Mountains as riders travel 101 miles from Evanston, Wyoming, to Kamas with a very difficult climb over Bald Mountain.
Horner suggested there is still a lot of racing left before the tour is over.
"Tom was the best climber today, but we'll be looking to see if we can't somehow get isolated on a climb and cut into his lead," Horner said.