LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah -- Racing in the mountains put Johann Tschopp in his comfort zone.
When he approached the Wasatch Mountains for an arduous climb to Snowbird Ski Resort, Tschopp was struck by how much they reminded him of home near the Alps in Switzerland. At that moment, the most difficult mountain stage in the Tour of Utah played right into his hands.
"I prepared very well for this race," Tschopp said. "I found that this race suits me because of all the mountains. They remind me of the mountains at home."
On Saturday, Tschopp emerged after a successful attack over the final miles to win the fifth stage, and take the overall lead. He finished the 102-mile stage in 4 hours, 18 minutes, 20 seconds.
The Czech Republic's Leopold Koenig finished second, 43 seconds behind. American Joseph Dombrowski was third, 47 seconds behind Tschopp.
All three cyclists were part of a small attack initiated by two-time defending Tour of Utah champion Levi Leipheimer over the final three miles through Little Cottonwood Canyon. The attack occurred on the final climb in a stage that featured 12,139 vertical feet of climbing.
"Levi attacked and I knew he was going to be one of the strongest in the group, so I knew I had to follow if I wanted to finish high on the stage," Dombrowski said.
Multiple riders tried attacks starting at the first sprint through Kamas and leading up to the final climb into the Wastach Mountains. They all eventually lost ground to the peloton before the final successful attack spearheaded by Leipheimer.
Tschopp said he knew he had to go as early as possible in Little Cottonwood Canyon to gain time on overall leader Christian Vande Velde before the finish.
"It's a feeling," Tschopp said. "You just know when you have the legs and it's time to go."
Tschopp also claimed his first career yellow jersey after unseating U.S. rider Vande Velde as the overall leader with a cumulative time of 18:18.49. Vandevelde was 38 seconds behind Tschopp.
U.S. rider Matthew Busche climbed to third, 43 seconds back. Koening and Dombrowski also are less than a minute behind Tschopp for the overall lead.
"It's a personal victory," Tschopp said. "It means a lot to wear the yellow jersey. Hopefully, it will last through tomorrow."
The sixth and final stage Sunday will feature a 76.8-mile course that starts and ends in Park City and loops through Summit and Wasatch counties.