Cycling: Tour of Utah preps for trek into magnificence
By Christopher Kamrani
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Aug 04 2013 03:57PM
There isn’t a tranquil highway or scenic byway or crowded, dusty backroad in this state Steve Miller hasn’t conquered from the seat of a bike or the confines of a car.
So when he rolled that map of Utah onto a table four years ago and pointed to the south, toward the jagged red rocks and the rolling hills of central Utah, Miller envisioned then how this year’s 586-mile Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah could differ from the previous seven.
Starting Tuesday morning at Brian Head Resort near Cedar City, the peloton featuring some of the top cycling talents nationwide and around the globe will churn its collective legs toward the idea that Miller and tour organizers had in 2009.
"There isn’t a corner of the state we don’t know," said Miller, president of both the Tour of Utah and Miller Sports Properties. "Turns out, there isn’t any place in Utah you can’t go."
And they’re backing it up.
For the first time in its eight-year existence, the Tour of Utah, set to be broadcast live in 50 countries over its six-day period, will incorporate stages in southern, central and northern Utah. When the race began in 2006, Miller said the dream could one day come to fruition, but knew it wasn’t feasible at the time. The popularity and consistency of luring athletes and sponsorships needed time.
"You have to water it and nurture it along," Miller said.
Safe to say it’s bloomed.
And Steve Johnson, president of USA Cycling, has taken notice. As a former resident of Utah, Johnson, now based in Colorado, said the Tour of Utah’s organic growth is what stands out. Without those early years of lessons learned, the race wouldn’t be where it is today, Johnson said.
"Other tours started out with just title sponsors, but this has grown with a plan and I really love that about the Millers," Johnson said. "It’s been one step at a time in order to keep it healthy all the way along. I think it’s a testament to them."
Following the historic Stage 1 race finishing in Cedar City, racers and fans will prepare for a Stage 2 that most have circled for its rugged terrain and awe-inspiring views along Highway 12 from Panguitch to Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.
Utah native and 2008 Tour of Utah champion Jeff Louder has been a contender for yellow jerseys in the race since its inception, but admitted he never thought the race would grow into the worldwide spectacle it’s become in the cycling community.
And he expects the second stage to wow.
"It’s a long stage and it’s a gorgeous stage," said Louder, veteran of the UnitedHealthCare Pro Cycling Team. "It’s pretty dramatic and unique and should be a great showcase for southern Utah."
Pedaling in the same realm of destinations such as Hell’s Backbone and Box Death Hollow, the riders will be tested to their core in the 131-mile Stage 2, which features 9,877 feet of elevation gain.
"There’s not an easy stage," said Park City’s Tanner Putt of the Bontrager Cycling Team.
Following the finish of the second stage in Torrey, the race will begin winding its way northward Thursday when riders will set off from Richfield and set out for Payson. Prior to the finish, the course will take competitors near Mount Nebo, the tallest peak along the Wasatch Mountains.
Charles Aaron, managing director of Optum Pro Cycling, said this will be his team’s fourth Tour of Utah and he expects much of same: unforgiving conditions and rigorous climbs, like Stage 5 of the tour, the "Queen" stage from Snowbasin Resort to Snowbird Resort.
"It’s Utah in August," Aaron said. "It’s windy, it’s hot, there’s lots of altitude and climbing, but when you have great crowds, it’s just great coming back."
The sixth and final stage will start in Park City and end on Park City’s Main Street as it did in 2012. It will feature a 78-mile loop around Summit and Wasatch counties and give riders one last exhausting push over Empire Pass.
"Everyone is super motivated," said Joey Rosskopf of the Hincapie Sportswear Development Team. "It’s hard to know what we’re capable of here because there’s so much climbing and we don’t really have a rider cut out for the climbs."
Therein lies the nucleus of the event.
Miller and tour organizers have waited to pull back the curtain and give cyclists a true statewide test in North America, and now that the idea set in motion four years ago is at the forefront, the Tour of Utah can stand on its own and have the state speak for itself.
"You can’t just snap your fingers and have a world-class event," Miller said.
You water it and nurture it along.