Skip to content

Utah vs. Colorado Part 3: What the Tours of Utah and California Teach

September 21, 2011

This is Part 3 of a three-part story. For Part 2 on whether mountain-top finishes turn up the heat, click here.

Part 3 of this story steps back in time. Analysis of previous Tour of Utah and Tour of California courses and outcomes could shed light on the influence of a mountain-top finish on stage race results and whether one should be included in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Remembering that the courses (and perhaps the riders as well) have evolved in both races, here are the top three winners of both races in the past few years.

Tour of Cali Rider “type” Tour of Utah Rider “type”
2011 1st Horner climb / AR Leipheimer TT / AR
2nd Leipheimer TT / AR Henao climb
3rd Danielson climb / TT Brajkovic climb / TT
2010 1st Rogers TT / AR Leipheimer TT / AR
2nd Zabriskie TT / AR Mancebo climb
3rd Leipheimer TT / AR Boswell climb / AR
2009 1st Leipheimer TT / AR Mancebo climb
2nd Zabriskie TT Lill climb / AR
3rd Rogers AR / TT Louder AR / climb

Tour of California

Leipheimer wins 2009 Tour of California (Mike Norris,

The Tour of California didn’t showcase a real mountain-top finish until 2011; the 2010 course included the first “mountain-top” finish at Big Bear, but despite the scent of stands of evergreen trees, the road leveled out kilometers before the finish. Peter Sagan of Liquigas Cannondale won the stage. Multiple aspects of the course changed between 2009 and 2010. The race organizers swapped the 24 k bucolic TT course in Solvang that Leipheimer had enjoyed for a longer 34 K flat course around shiny downtown Los Angeles for 2010. In addition, the Tour of California courses prior to 2010 opened with a prologue while 2010 and 2011 began with a road stage.

Did the elimination of the flat prologue favor a different type of rider for high GC placement in 2010? Defining Rogers as more an all-rounder than a TT specialist bolsters that opinion. It’s muddy, but 2010 was the first year Leipheimer didn’t win. It seems a mountain-top finish and discontinuing the prologue unlocked the 2011 Tour of California to a wider field of GC contenders.

Tour of Utah

Tour of Utah Logo (ToU flickr photo)

Likewise, the Tour of Utah has modified its course several times during its history. At least one interesting point emerges from analyzing the routes. The 2009 and 2010 editions packed two mountain-top finishes. Each year the top three overall in GC after the first summit finish on day three stood on the podium in the same positions when the race ended after six days. Each year featured the same TT at the Miller Motorsports Park. The mountain-top finishes proved selective.

Leipheimer’s track record in both races invites inspection. He won three years of the Tour of California without a mountain-top finish. And he won the more climber-friendly Tour of Utah with mountain-top finishes. I don’t think this proves the course is not a prime influencer for GC results. Instead, these results point more to Leipheimer’s form and ability to win week-long stage races, as well as perhaps Leipheimer’s response to racing at altitude. He may fit into a class of pro-cyclists who respond better to racing at altitude and recover well from efforts in high places; his first place finish in the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) supports the altitude theory.

Leipheimer after Vail TT win, 2011 UPCC (Mary Topping)

Certainly there are many ways to interpret race results and many factors not discussed here that affect who wins in what types of races on what kinds of courses. Surprise – it’s a complex equation. And yet it does seem adjustments to the Tour of California route made a difference. Analysis of Tour of Utah routes shows mountain-top finishes can determine GC winners. At the same time, Utah’s race results reveal that, like TTs, mountain-top finishes can also blunt the GC battle and hence excitement for the remainder of the race when they conclude earlier stages.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge’s 2012 Course

What does this mean for the UPCC which did not have a real mountain-top finish in 2011? Tom Danielson of Team Garmin-Cervélo, in an interview at his home in the weeks before the UPCC, voiced his preference for a TT up Lookout Mountain in the Colorado race. If the race organizers took his suggestion, and changed the prologue to a relatively flat profile instead of downhill – or eliminated it altogether – would that overly favor the climbers, or level the playing field between climbers and TT specialists? I suggest they try it on for size. Then spectators can relish the added anticipation of whether anyone can best Danielson’s record of 16 minutes and two seconds.

Lookout Mountain from downtown Golden (Mary Topping)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: