“It was really fast the first half of the race and it was really great to have all the boys sort of keeping tight and trying to save me as much as possible, which let me be able to go well on the climb,” said Norris. “It was another really good day for the team.”
Norris started the day in 13th overall, needing 29 seconds to break into the top 10 and did so with his ninth-place finish. The 27-year-old Victorian finished just 25 seconds behind stage winner, fellow Australian Cadel Evans (BMC), following a strong final climb up Empire Pass.
Earlier in the week, Norris finished in 10th place on Stage 4 setting up his strong finale.
The 125.5km stage that looped Park City began in fast fashion, with the breakaway taking close to 34km to form. Jai Crawford ensured Drapac Professional Cycling was represented in the escape, riding across the gap to join Matt Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Joe Lewis (Hincapie Sportswear), Bissell pair James Oram and Tanner Putt, Jacob Rathe (Jelly Belly), Cristiano Salerno (Cannondale) and Maarten Tjallingi (Belkin).
“We aimed to put Jai into the break today as we thought the break had a good chance to stay away and with Jai climbing very well and being a little down on GC, we thought it might stick,” explained Director of Performance, Keith Flory. “The break took nearly an hour to go and it was full gas during that hour. Jai rode cleverly to get in the break. The other boys were there to look after Lachie and deliver him to the bottom of the Empire Pass, which again they did brilliantly.”
Never allowed more than 4:15, the break was eventually pegged back at the base of the climb to Empire Pass as the battle for GC took shape.
“It was a brute of a climb,” explained Norris. “It started off really steep for the first five to eight kilometres. [Tom] Danielson went pretty early and it took [Chris] Horner a while to react and then there was a group of about five of us with Cadel [Evans] and a few of the other guys.
“I was just hanging on and trying to conserve. At altitude, it’s really hard. You make an effort and don’t recover so I was just trying to stay out of the real red zone and just hang in there.”
When Evans moved ahead of the chase group, Norris made several attempts to catch the former Tour de France winner before eventually relenting. Norris crested Empire Pass with Evans’ teammates Ben Hermans, Yannick Eijssen, and Dylan Teuns, along with George Bennett (Cannondale), and Alex Diniz (Funvic Brasilinvest – Sao Jose Dos Campos) with the group riding into the finish in Park City together before fighting it out for the line.
Norris said that his results would not have been possible if it weren’t for the efforts of his Drapac teammates, and that proved a real highlight of the week.
“A lot of the time they probably took away from their own goals to put their efforts towards me,” he said. “It means a lot because they’re a good group of guys and it’s great to have their support.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Flory.
“Firstly, the team supported each other and there was many selfless acts to support each other,” he said. “Secondly Lachie’s ride on stages 4 & 7 and his 10th on GC. It shows that he can really climb with the best.”
Drapac Professional Cycling will now enjoy a few rest days before beginning final preparations for the US Pro Challenge in Colorado which begins August 18.
“I’m really looking forward to it now,” concluded Norris. “I’ve got a bit of confidence out of this race and Colorado will be a different ball game again. The stages are different; the altitude’s probably a little bit higher. With a good week of rest we’ll probably be in really good shape heading into that race.”
Flory believes that the team is set up well for the event.
“The US Pro Challenge is a very different race, with the TT being more of a decisive factor in the tour,” he said. “But off the back of a very good tour, I think we’re positioned well for another strong showing in Colorado.”
Results snapshot – Drapac Professional Cycling, Tour of Utah Stage 7:
9. Lachie Norris +25s
34. Adam Phelan +7:43
60. Brendan Canty +12:43
63. Jai Crawford +12:59
82. Robbie Hucker +17:02
89. Wes Sulzberger +24:27
10. Lachie Norris +4:59
23. Jai Crawford +24:25
48. Adam Phelan +1:02:51
50. Brendan Canty +1:03:25
89. Robbie Hucker +1:41:14
90. Wes Sulzberger +1:41:35
Lachlan Norris fights to the finish line in Park City at the Tour of Utah. © Andy Bokanev