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Winning short-list for 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah

August 4, 2012

While the elements of luck and weather are always in play when it comes to pro-cycling, potential winners of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will have these characteristics in common:

  • Good at altitude. The average elevation in Salt Lake City is 1,319 meters (4,327 feet); the elevation only increases with all of the stages. At higher altitudes there is less oxygen in total available to breathe and amount of physical work an athlete can produce is lower.
  • A speedy team for the TTT. The TTT course at Miller Motorsports Park covers 21.8 km (13.5 miles) which, depending on how final time is measured, could be long enough to open up nice leads for some and exile others from the podium or set them up for a significant fight to gain back time.
  • Strong climber. The winner doesn’t have to conquer the uphill Snowbird finish first, but he will have to go uphill fast enough to finish with the other GC contenders or gain time on them. Riders will ascend in total 11,430 meters (37,501 feet) over the entire race.
  • A strong team to defend the jersey and / or make other teams and their leaders suffer. It’s possible for whoever wears the leader’s jersey after the Stage 2 TTT to defend it to the end, but it won’t be easy, especially with all of the mountains: Big Mountain on Stage 3, the uphill finish on Stage 5, and the steep Guardsman Pass close to the finish on the last day.
  • Able to recover well and excel at a nearly one-week race. This needs no further explanation. Levi Leipheimer, when he’s healthy, fits this category very well.

So who is the magic man that possesses all of these qualities and will win the 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah? Predictions are so difficult to make, and so tantalizing. When it comes to weather predictions, NOAA currently forecasts temperatures through Stage 4 to reach the mid to upper 90’s Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celcius).

The short list for the top step

Assigning two points to each characteristic above yields an overall score for each competitor out of a maximum of ten points.

Levi greets fans in Santa Rosa, 2012 Amgen Tour of CA stage 1

Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step): 7. Leipheimer excels at one week races, he’s won this event two years in a row, and his wins last year in Utah and Colorado demonstrate he performs well at altitude.

The key question about Leipheimer’s chances are how good he’s feeling. He finished the Tour de France in 32nd place, but couldn’t climb with the leaders. Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), and Chris Froome (Sky) won’t be spinning up the Utah climbs, but 2012 TDF finishers Chris Horner (RadioShack Nissan Trek) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) will, and Horner finished ahead of Leipheimer in GC at the TDF. It’s curious that according to the preliminary startlist last year’s winner of the Tour of Utah will arrive with five teammates when most teams are sending the eight-rider maximum. This could hurt Leipheimer in the TTT and leave him isolated in the mountains.

Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong): 9. The only American victor of the Baby Giro could really soar in the Tour of Utah. Bontrager-Livestrong’s TTT results are uncertain and Dombrowski’s youth should perhaps reduce his score. Contrast that to his performance at altitude (third overall at the Tour of the Gila and fourth on Mt. Baldy in California this year), a strong eight-man team, and his potential to win on Snowbird, and voilà, he lands on the short list of favorites for the Tour of Utah.

Chasing Mt. Baldy break, Jacob Rathe leads Garmin-Barracuda, now Garmin-Sharp

Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp): 9. If Danielson hadn’t been severely injured in the TDF, his score based on the five characteristics would be a pretty solid ten. Good at altitude: check (he currently holds the record for the Mt. Evans Hill climb which reaches over 14,000 feet). Strong, experienced team overall and in the TTT: check. Danielson’s been riding; what’s unknown is the extent of his recovery, and how much will he hold back if he’s targeting the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.

Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist Racing Team): 8.5. Tour of Utah overall winner in 2009, second in 2010, and eleventh in 2011. Fresh off winning the five-day Cascade Cycling Classic. Number one in the individual National Racing Calendar rankings with more than twice as many points as second place Rory Sutherland, Mancebo arrives in Utah with a strong full-complement team. His weakness is the roster’s TTT performance. The team has gotten behind Mancebo by hiring Rick Crawford, a collegiate cycling coach with TTT experience, to advise the team and practice the TTT on course the week before the race.

Chris Horner at 2012 Amgen Tour of California

Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek): 8.5. Horner climbed really well in the TDF and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek sends a strong group of climbers with just plain powerhouses like Jens Voigt to support him.

So what’s going to be different for Horner in Utah than in California this year? The team should do better in the TTT compared to the individual TT Horner couldn’t pull off in May, the team’s composition is more climbing-weighted, and Horner has a very good TDF finish in his head and his legs. With about two-thirds less climbing per mile in Utah than California, additional climbing strength may not be a significant factor.

The long list

To the short-list above add the potential for strong performances from Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), Matt Cooke (Exergy), Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Chris Baldwin (Bissell).

It’s going to be a great show.

ProVéloPassion’s Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah overview and stage analysis provide information about the race overall and specific stage highlights.

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