Evan Huffman rides and races for Rally Cycling. After a stellar performance in 2017 with six race wins, multiple stage victories, including two at the Amgen Tour of California and another KOM, although a tie, we caught up with him to chat about his 2018 season especially this year's Tour of Utah.
We decided to break the Larry H Miler Tour of Utah down by stage and get Evan's account of each pedal and pain endured during "America's toughest race."
Stage 1 the Prologue.
The Larry H Miller Tour of Utah has been described as “America’s toughest race”. Watching the live feed this year it certainly looked like it. Would you say it lived up to that reputation?
Yes, definitely. Tour of California usually looks harder on paper with longer stages and more WT teams, but the heat and altitude in Utah really take their toll on you. This year especially had a lot of really steep climbs too.
SPRUZZA One rider described the Prologue as “violent”. You were quotes as saying, “You go from feeling really good to terrible really fast”.
It was a very short “prologue” 5.2km with only 60 meters of climbing. What was your strategy for stage 1 and how was that effected by your approach to the rest of the race?
Yes, it’s a tough effort because it’s short enough that you don’t want to hold anything back, but at high altitude it doesn’t take much to go over your limit and have a bad finish. I knew it was an okay course for me, so I went as fast as I could. My main focus was to ease into it a little the first minute so I could hit the biggest hill really hard right after that. Then try to recover a little through the turn-around, then it’s basically just trying to fight the pain and keep the speed up the 2nd half.
You made the top 10 cut on the prologue finishing 9th. How’d that feel? Was it a boost going forward?
It felt great. I was really looking forward to the rest of the race at that point, knowing I had some good fitness.
SPRUZZA Stage 1 was a 162 km with a category 1 and 4 climb as well as one intermediate sprint. You were part of a four man group that broke away fairly early in the race and seemed to be pushing each other on the categorized climbs. For a while you were the virtual GC leader on stage 1. How did being part of that small group feel on those climbs?
It felt good mentally because it was a good day to be in the break and that was the team plan from the start. Physically, I started feeling bad pretty early on the biggest climb of the stage. I think I let myself get behind on hydration after the prologue because I really shouldn’t have been struggling that bad to stay with those guys.
SPRUZZA You picked up 3 sprint points and 7 KOM points. Watching the live tracker it really looked hot and tough out there. What was the “chatter” between the four of you if any?
Yes, it was a really hot day. We talked a little bit about trying to keep it steady and stay together so we’d have a better chance of making it to the finish ahead of the peloton.
SPRUZZA You weren’t quite able to hold the group lead at the end but you did finish 5th overall in the GC and got the Most Combative Rider jersey. I should say so! What did the stage take out of you especially looking ahead to the next 5 days?
It was kind of a frustrating day for me. In hindsight, with the long downhill headwind at the end, the peloton never gave us enough of a gap to have a real chance to make it to the finish. But I could have taken the KOM jersey with better legs, and I may have been able to keep that at the end of the week. It was nice to move up to 5th overall though and get the red jersey.
SPRUZZA Watching you heat up on those climbs I’ve just got to ask, “Where you thinking about having a Spruzza on the bike to cool down?”
Absolutely! I was getting ice socks and spraying my face/head with water all day. Of course, that only works if you have a follow car and a virtually endless supply of water as most of it ends up on the ground. Spruzza is a more practical solution.
SPRUZZA Stage 2 was a bit shorter than stage 1 with just one category 1 climb but a 22 km long one. Once again with 90 km to go you were sitting in the “virtual” GC lead. You finished 32nd for the day and 19th in the GC. What were the challenges for you on stage 2? How much had being the Most Combative Rider taken out of you the day before?
I felt much better on stage 2 so I think the previous day didn’t take too much out of me. It was a bigger group and a shorter stage so I actually didn’t use much extra energy once I was in the break. Heaving a head start on Mt Nebo allowed me to ride the bottom at my own pace and actually help our climbers on the middle/upper sections. It’s kind of a risky tactic, but it worked really well for me/us on this day.
SPRUZZA This was the longest stage of this year’s TOU. It seemed to be more of a sprinters course with 3 sprints and only one KOM. Rob Britton was the only Rally rider in the breakaway on stage 3. Were you taking a bit of a “rest day” or had the team assigned you to a different supportive role?
I think I was actually on the short list of guys that should be trying for the break. It was just such a hard break to get into Rob was the only one who could manage it. It worked out though because it made Lotto Jumbo ride super hard all day to keep him from putting himself back in GC contention. I actually thought he was gonna make it for some of the finish circuits.
SPRUZZA You’ve been “classified” as a TT rider, a sprinter and after winning two Amgen KOM jerseys a climber. Stage 3 was a sprinters course. Was that your mindset going into this stage?
I think everyone was thinking it’d be a good day for a break to survive because the GC was pretty spaced out and there were few, if any, teams committed to chase all day for a sprint. I did kinda want to be in the break at the start, but as it played out I was happy Rob was there.
SPRUZZA At the end of stage 3 Kyle, Rob, and you were sitting 5th, 18th, and 19th in the GC. How did you and the team feel about the standings half way through? Were there any changes to your or the teams plans going forward?
We were a little disappointed that Rob couldn’t stay with the front group on Nebo, but happy to have Kyle right up there. It didn’t change our plans too much because we knew that the last 2 days were big opportunities for GC changes.
SPRUZZA This stage was a circuit race 10 laps on an 11.5 km loop. It also had 1700 meters of climbing over just 110 km. How does a circuit like this effect your strategy or pacing compared to a long point to point course?
Sometimes short stages are harder than long ones because there’s no time to go slow, it’s pretty fast from start to finish. Our strategy didn’t change much though. We had a few guys we wanted in the break and then Rob and Kyle were going to look for opportunities the last 2 laps.
SPRUZZA After stage 4 you dropped to 20th in the GC but remained 6th in the mountain classification, and Rally moved to 3rd in the overall GC. Not bad at all. You’ve got two days left. How things feel at this point?
I was feeling pretty good. I think there was still a chance for me to win the KOM, but the main focus with stage and GC results with Rob and Kyle.
Stage 5 The Queen Stage
SPRUZZA Stage 5 was another climbers course with 3 KOM’s and 2 sprints. I was watching you with the breakaway up Guardsman’s Pass. That looked brutal. You really fought to stay in the bunch. How painful was that and where were you going for “inspiration”?
I was actually feeling pretty good most of the way up that climb, until Kilian Frankiny started forcing the pace toward the top. It was pretty tough at that point because the pavement gets really bad and it’s such high altitude. I just had to keep telling myself it was going to be over soon. Super steep climbs like that can feel endless because you’re moving so slow.
SPRUZZA You picked up 5 points on the second KOM after that great effort and ended 6th in the overall mountain classification after stage 5. One day left, what was left in the legs and the mind?
I was tired, of course, but motivated for the last stage because I know there was opportunity to help Rob and Kyle a lot.
SPRUZZA The final day and you were once again in a 15 rider breakaway at one point with a 2 minute gap on the peloton. At Wolf Creek Pass you fell back to help Kyle Murphy. Was that planned our just reacting to the situation in the moment?
That was exactly our plan from the start. It didn’t work out like we’d hoped because the gap to the break was pretty big and we didn’t get much help. We thought the EF team would try the same thing and help Kyle across the gap. So Kyle had to use a lot of energy and didn’t start the last climb with a huge head start.
SPRUZZA The finish at stage 6 saw you sitting at 93rd for the day. My read is that you had given your all this year. Overall you ended 44th in the GC, 6th in the Combative Rider, 10th in the Mountain Classification and Rally Cycling finished 8th in the team GC ranking. I’m guessing you and the team felt pretty good about the showing this year.
We were all pretty disappointed with the results, but happy with the way we raced. We had a little bad luck and just riders having bad days when it really counted. It’s always tough when you come to a race as the defending champions.
SPRUZZA Just a couple of final questions. You and the team were facing the Colorado Classic about a week after the TOU. Did this timing play a role in how you approached the race?
Yes and no. For the most part, you just take each race individually as it comes. For me, I would have probably tried to spend more time pre Utah training at altitude if I didn’t have Colorado right after.
SPRUZZA You’ve had a good year, albeit not quite the incredible 2017 season you had. Can you share any reflections on 2018 or predictions for 2019? This was the first year for Rally going “Pro Continental” how has that effected the season with the expanded racing and travels?
Yes, a somewhat disappointing year for results, but also somewhat predictable after such a big season like 2017. We did more big, international events which means more travel. I think that took a toll on all the riders. I predict next season we’ll grow into the Pro Continental status a little more and see more wins.
SPRUZZA Final question, one I got a chuckle out of. So what happened to Rob Britton with that “ice-sock” getting caught up in his rear derailleur? That was funny. I told him, You should use a Spruzza.
Ha, kinda funny in hindsight. He unzipped his jersey to start the climb and all the melted ice socks from the day fell down into his cassette/derailleur. I’ve seen it happen before, it’s really easy to forget they’re back there. He should use a Spruzza for sure.