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2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah stage analysis

July 24, 2012

Foothills near Little Cottonwood Canyon, the road to Snowbird

[updated 8/4/2012]

The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah course promises some exciting racing over six stages from August 7 through August 12. The terrain is varied and challenging, set-up for a mixture of break-away and GC drama. The riders found its altitude great preparation for the USA Pro Challenge last year, so much so that competitors like Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) have mentioned they’re considering racing Utah this year.

Because the Colorado race begins eight days after the Tour of Utah concludes, the riders participating in both events, of which there should be many, may gauge their efforts in Utah carefully. Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale) noted after last year’s Colorado race that back-to-back week-long efforts at altitude meant some didn’t have a lot left in the tank after going hard in Utah. Guys like Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist) and those on the other teams (Rabobank, Argos-Shimano, NetApp) who aren’t expected to ride in Colorado could have an edge in Utah for this reason.

Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist) at a Tour of the Gila start line

Stage by stage

The race begins with a long 211 km (131.6 miles) Stage 1 that includes four climbs. The last climb, North Ogden Pass, is short at 3 km (2 miles) long. The average grade of 8% with a summit 16 km (10 miles) from the finish line could provide a platform for some riders to slip away. Although the descent appears to include a few 90 degree turns it doesn’t seem overly technical, though narrow roads could change that conclusion.

This finale on Stage 1 is likely a set-up for a select group, including sprinters who can climb well, to contest the stage. Whether or not that’s a GC rider is a tough call, but chances are if he’s feeling good Mancebo will come out swinging – just because he’s Mancebo – and also because he probably needs an advantage going into the team time trial over his WorldTour team rivals.

If the GC didn’t begin to shake out on Stage 1 it should after the team time trial of Stage 2, depending on how the race decides to score time (remember the TDF when the second-placed TTT team lost only 20 seconds regardless of their real time?). WorldTour teams especially and perhaps certain pro-continental teams in the event should enjoy an advantage; they’ve likely practiced and raced TTTs whereas the continental teams won’t have raced a TTT as a unit, although some of the riders may have experience from prior teams.

Stage 3 launches the field up the opposite side of North Ogden Pass, where a breakaway could go if one hasn’t formed yet. The most difficult climb of the day is Big Mountain which summits with 24 km (15 miles) mostly downhill to the finish line interrupted by a short shallow bump midway. The Tour’s description of this stage indicates a two-man break peeled away from the pack on Big Mountain and held off the field the last two times this stage featured in the race.

This stage last appeared in the Tour of Utah in 2010 when a group of six who started up Big Mountain dwindled to David Tanner (Fly V) and Alex Dowsett (Trek-Livestrong). Tanner won just ahead of Dowsett and 26 seconds in advance of a large portion of a splintered peloton. In 2009 Mancebo and teammate Oscar Sevilla formed the two man break over Big Mountain; Mancebo won the stage, again just under 30 seconds before a large group.

For 2012 it’s likely a break will form over the last climb again. However, this course opened the race as Stage 1 after a prologue the last two times it was included in the Tour. This year, depending on the standings after the team time trial, there’s a good chance a group of GC men will test each other on the climb. If they do, a larger select group could descend into the finish line which will make for an even more exciting sprint finish.

Ian Boswell & Lawson Craddock (Bontrager Livestrong), Chad Beyer (Competitive Cyclist), Tour of the Gila Stage 5 top three. All are expected in Utah.

The sprinters should look forward to Stage 4. It lacks KOMs. But there’s still 1,280 meters (4,200 feet) of elevation gain, and a potential bump (pending race profiles) near the finish. While that could eliminate some of the sprinters, it isn’t steep enough to separate the GC contenders – unless windy conditions split the peloton earlier in the race.

Stage 5’s finish at Snowbird resort is a race favorite, a place that’s seen break-away winners like Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) as well as GC riders crossing the line at 2,545 meters (8,350 feet) elevation. Either outcome is possible this year regardless of the separation among the top-placed riders. For example, the next day’s climbs are hard enough that the leader’s team might only chase down GC threats here to save something for the last day. Stage 5 is a day where anything could happen.

2012’s edition of the Tour of Utah could well result in a battle for the yellow jersey as well as the KOM jersey until the final race day of Stage 6, thanks to the addition of Empire Pass (a.k.a. Guardsman Pass). It’s a 9% climb over 10 km (6 miles) with a 13% section near the bottom and the last third rising about 5%. The Park Record reported that “Mancebo called it the toughest climb he’s ever done.” Eight km (5 miles) remain between the riders and the finish line from the summit, so an attack here could stick.

Take a look at this list of potential winners of the 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

Levi Leipheimer at the start of 2011 Tour of Utah Stage 2, is expected at the 2012 edition to defend his 2011 victory.

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