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Cedar City • Moreno Hofland still recalls the piling on of May 18. The 22-year-old Dutchman was already out of the picture at the 2014 Tour of California. He was one of the final riders in the eighth and final stage in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when he set out to the finish line to get dressed and wash off a disappointing race.
Some tourists rode up as Hofland descended, so he took a sharp turn around them to pass and zip down the hill when the angle proved to throw his season for a loop. He slammed into the railing on the side of the road, broke five ribs and fractured his spine. That meant no cycling for at least a month as he recuperated in the hospital.
"Now," Hofland said, smiling, "I'm pain-free."
Things have changed, and in a flash for the Belkin-Pro Cycling sprinter. He won Stage 1 of the 2014 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Monday in Cedar City, his first official race back from the severe injury that put his summer slate of races into question. Slovenian Jure Kocjan of Team SmartStop finished second in the initial stage, while Italian Andrea Palini of Team Lampre-Merida finished third. In the 113.5-mile opener of the Tour, Hofland along with more than 120 riders watched as a breakaway of five that started mere miles into the stage took hold of the lead, inching away from the peloton and keeping its distance for nearly five hours.
The racers first hit their pedals at 10:45 a.m. and it wasn't until 3:36 p.m. that the breakaway was eventually swallowed whole by the peloton on the streets of Cedar City. Less than four miles remained as sprinters each took their turn leading the pack. Hofland knew he had to stay close to teammate Robbie Wagner somewhere in striking distance of a podium finish. Wagner helped Hofland to the final corner and straightaway with about 200 meters to go.
"I had to do it myself," Hofland said. "It worked out pretty good."
As he crossed the finish line, the Dutch rider lifted his hands off the handlebars and spread his arms in elation. The last three months weren't easy. Hofland will be the first to admit that.
"It's really special for me because it's the first race for me after the crash," he said. "I was confident because the training went well, but racing is always different. I was nervous like it was the first race of the season. All the nerves went to my legs and I could do whatever I want to in the sprint today."
The nerves should remain as the talented young sprint cyclist will again have a target on his back entering Stage 2 of the Tour on Tuesday morning as it rolls from Panguitch to Torrey for over 130 miles and features over 10,000 feet of elevation gain along picturesque Highway 63 and Highway 12. No matter the result, it will be tough to top putting May 18 behind him and making Aug. 4 a more prominent 2014 date to reminisce about.
"The stage, I think, was perfect for me, because it was a hard stage, but a sprint finish," Hofland said. "It was ideal for me. Normally some guys get dropped when the race is harder, but I was more fresh than the rest of the sprinters, I guess."
As for owning the yellow jersey for at least another 24 hours, Hofland said he doesn't know what to expect Tuesday, but if it isn't him destined to be handed a bouquet of flowers and kisses on each cheek, he'll aim to ensure Belkin-Pro Cycling stays in yellow.
"I'm going to try and hold on as long as possible," he said.
Tour of Utah
P Stage 2, Panguitch to Torrey
Tuesday, 10:15 a.m.
TV • ROOT, 2 p.m.
Tour of Utah,
Stage 1 results
• Cedar City to Cedar City: 113.5 miles
1. Moreno Hofland (Netherlands), Belkin-Pro Cyling Team, 4 hours, 51 minutes, 2 seconds.
2. Jure Kocjan (Slovenia), Team SmartStop, 4 seconds back
3. Andrea Palini (Italy), Team Lampre-Merida, :06
4. Eric Young (U.S.), Optum P/B Kelly Benefit Strategies, :10
5. Kiel Reijnen (U.S.), UnitedHealthCare Pro Cycling, same time
6. Danilo Wyss (Switzerland), BMC Racing Team, same time
7. Rick Zabel (Germany), BMC Racing Team, same time
8. Tanner Putt (U.S.), Bissell Development Team, same time
9. Alex Howes (U.S.), Team Garmin-Sharp, same time
10. Serghei Tvetcov (Romania), Jelly Pelly P/B Maxxis, same time
1. BMC Racing Team
2. Team Lampre-Merida
3. Team Garmin-Sharp
4. Team SmartStop
5. Belkin-Pro Cycling Team
6. Optum P/B Kelly Benefit Strategies
7. Bissell Development Team
8. UnitedHealthCare Pro Cycling Team.
9. Jelly Belly P/B Maxxis
10. Hincapie Sportswear Development Team