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2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah a moving feast for climbers and spectators

August 5, 2013
Matthew Busche (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) finishes the 2012 Tour of Utah Stage 6 into Park City with the yellow jersey group

Matthew Busche (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) finishes the 2012 Tour of Utah Stage 6 into Park City with the yellow jersey group

The 2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah may well go down as the most exciting edition of the race to date.

Course designers broke the traditional mold to create the new 586 mile (943 k) route, adding roads in the southern part of the state for the first time while preserving fan-popular segments like Snowbird’s uphill finish and the Capitol Hill circuit with a steep run-up into the start/finish line.

It’s no coincidence those two favorites include challenging ascents. With 43,000 vertical feet (13,106 meters) of climbing – a 12% increase over last year, riders will extract more uphill effort from their legs than in any of the previous eight outings. The time trial stage was sacrificed to find extra miles to cover the distance from the new southern start to the northern part of the state in six stages.

In fact, directors are calling this year’s event a climber’s race. That includes retired professional cyclist and Cedar City, Utah born and raised Burke Swindlehurst, who contested the event several times and finished as high as fourth overall. This year he will again act as Sport Director for the Champion System team in Utah. The team brings international riders that the director expects will deliver good results as well as Americans Chad Beyer, Chris Butler, and Craig Lewis who can conquer rising roads.

“I think this year’s event more than any event I’ve seen in the U.S. is going to cater to the pure climber,” Swindlehurst said last week. “And I think it’s going to make for some really exciting racing and some really aggressive racing, especially without the TT. Everything is going to have to be done on those climbs…”

The cadre of climber-specialists to watch with Champion’s three Americans are Janier Acevedo and Matt Cooke of Jamis-Hagens Berman, George Bennett and Matthew Busche (RadioShack Leopard Trek), Peter Stetina and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), Lucas Euser and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare), Phil Gaimon (Bissell), and Francisco Mancebo (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda), among others.

Stages and climbs

Stage 1: Brian Head to Cedar City, 112 miles (180 k). Elevation gain: 5,748 feet (1,752 k). With a long 30 mile (48 k) descent followed by a cat 3 and cat 4 KOM this stage seems tame on paper. But fifty nearly all uphill miles culminate in the second KOM which reaches nearly 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) high. This stage could hurt anyone feeling the elevation which due to this year’s route profile Swindlehurst believes “is going to play a bigger role here than it ever has before.” The final descent includes S turns and then flattens out before the riders turn into downtown Cedar City for the three finishing circuits. Any riders who get away on the final climb will likely get caught, but maybe one will get lucky.

“There are some great climbers in this race and it’s going to tough for any one team to really contain some of these riders when they get into that terrain,” Swindlehurst said. “Every stage could be a game changer here. There’s not a single ‘gimme’ stage in this race…”

Red Canyon scenery along the 2013 Tour of Utah's Stage 2

Red Canyon scenery along the 2013 Tour of Utah’s Stage 2

Stage 2: Panguitch to Torrey, 131 miles (210 k). Elevation gain: 9,877 feet (3,010 meters). The longest day of racing contains four KOMs, including the cat 1 Boulder Mountain, one of this year’s eight new climbs. The riders will sweep past Red Canyon’s orange-red rock sandcastles and the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. When they cross Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument they will pedal uphill along a narrow ridge which drops steeply on both sides to canyon floors. The twenty mile drop down to Torrey after Boulder Mountain should help some riders regroup before a select pack or breakaway members reach the finish line.

Stage 3: Richfield to Payson, 119 miles (191 k). Elevation gain: 6,202 feet (1,890 meters). Mount Nebo is the one and only KOM today. It summits just over 20 miles (32 k) from the arrival, but Swindlehurst doesn’t expect to see a huge pack cross the line together.

He projects a small group of as few as three or perhaps up to fifteen riders will gain the top of Nebo ahead of the peloton: “…it’s not an overly technical descent and it is a descent that you can pedal so riders that are close are going to be able to close gaps. I’d be shocked to see a group larger than 20 riders [in a front group] because that south approach is quite steep and it goes up to nearly 10,000 ft.”

Stage 4: Salt Lake City circuit, 34 miles (55 k). Elevation gain: 3,550 feet (1,082 meters). This circuit last featured in 2011 when riders on Colombian teams attacked so often they left some domestic riders’ heads spinning. Acevedo won that grueling stage on a very hot day. This year the peloton will complete a shorter distance in total after only five loops. Fewer passes of the up to 11% grade State/Capitol Streets into the finish line should widen the number of possible winners, though it’s possible for one to get away near the end of the loop to win. Perhaps Acevedo will go for it again.

Stage 5: Snowbasin resort to Snowbird resort, 113 miles (182k). Elevation gain: 10,611 feet (3,234 meters). Last year Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing Team) won solo after attacking on the final hors categorie climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon and stole the yellow jersey from Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde. Climber-opportunists as well as GC riders have won on this uphill finish. The stage start at Snowbasin and ascent of cat 1 Guardsmans Pass from Park City into Big Cottonwood Canyon are new. Total elevation gain on the day increases 600 feet (183 meters) over last year’s 10,000 and stage length is up by about 12 miles.

Stage 6: Park City to Park City, 78 miles (125 k). Elevation gain: 7,633 feet (2,326 meters). Like the 2012 edition, this stage should be decided on Empire Pass, the last climb before the descent into town, where the road pitches up beyond 20 percent in places. One rider could leave a select group behind and win alone like Levi Leipheimer when he rode for Omega Pharma – Quick Step last year.

Changing scenery, changing leaders

As the climbs stun the riders’ legs the scenery should equally stun spectators watching the action in-person or on television or online. Utah is a state of color and contrast. The peloton will race along roads that bring them past spectacular rock formations of creamy white and red as well as along valley roads bordering irrigated hay fields and pastures with grazing horses and cattle.

When asked for this story about how the route would affect the race Swindlehurst couldn’t contain his enthusiasm over the direction the course is taking.

“This is really exciting from my perspective as a Utahn for people to finally see why Utah is a place that I would never leave. I think visually it’s going to make for some great photography and video, and I think the riders are going to be blown away too.”

The course design and climbs could mean the overall leader might not be crowned until the final day. “It’s going to be a dynamic race,” the Cedar City native said. “I foresee multiple lead changes.”

Irrigation along Highway 89 near Panguitch, Utah

Irrigation along Highway 89 near Panguitch, Utah

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