What the American stage racing calendar lacks in quantity, it makes up for in difficulty. In the field and on the mountains, this year’s Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah is flat out rough. And defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is confirmed to be at the start.
“The Tour of Utah is very important for American cycling. It’s billed as ‘America’s Toughest Stage Race,’ and I believe the courses reflect that,” Leipheimer said in a release from organizers. “We have some very difficult climbs, especially this coming year. There are a couple of new ones that will really shock people.”
The six-day tour expands by 33 percent to 545 miles in 2012 and demands 37,501 feet of climbing. One stage sees 10,000 feet of climbing in 100 miles. The final day touts a new route into Park City that features sections of 23-percent gradient.
The field won’t make things any easier: nine teams that will be in this summer’s Tour de France will line up in Utah, including Leipheimer’s Omega Pharma team. Other squads include Liquigas-Cannondale, RadioShack-Nissan, BMC Racing, Rabobank, Garmin-Barracuda and Argos-Shimano.
Tour of Utah organizers announced this year’s route this morning and it promises to be the race’s most challenging edition yet.
“We feel really good about what we delivered last year,” said Steve Miller, who is the race’s co-owner and president. “We also feel like there are a lot of opportunities for us to do better.”
There are 13 King of the Mountain lines this year, and 10 sprint lines. New this year is North American stage racing’s first team time trial since the Tour de Georgia in 2008, and it’s on a motor speedway to boot.
Organizers dropped the prologue and made day one a full-on 132-mile road stage, climbing 9,000 feet, starting and finishing in Ogden. The new route features two climbs — one from each direction — of the Trappers Loop, as well as the new Hogback Summit and North Ogden Pass.
“It’s going to be huge,” Miller said. “They’re doing a lot of stuff to bring the tour to life down there.” The stage runs over four KOM points and two sprint lines.
Stage 2 is the team time trial, 13.5 miles played out on at the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, a road course with twists and turns that has hosted the race’s individual time trial in past editions. It promises to be a spectacle.
“That’s poetry in motion to watch the teams in motion in that effort,” Miller said. “Plus, the way that the track is set up there’s really not a bad seat in the house.”
Stage 3 (134 miles) runs from Ogden to Salt Lake City and ascends 7,000 feet, with two sprint points, in Huntsville and Morgan, and three KOMs. The stage features an early climb of North Ogden Pass, where Jesse Anthony (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) escaped with Leipheimer and others for a stage win in 2011, as well as the Old Snowbasin Road and Big Mountain climbs featured in earlier editions of the race. The stage finishes in the foothills overlooking Salt Lake City, at the University of Utah Research Park.
Stage 4 is the “flattest” of the race, clocking 4,200 feet of elevation gain over 134 miles between Lehi and Salt Lake City. The new route traces some of the old Pony Express line, heads into the desert and then back to Salt Lake City. After a run along the unopened Mountain View Corridor roadway, the stage finishes in the city, on a Friday.
“We should have just tremendous crowds,” Miller said. This, of all the stages, is the most logical for a sprint finish.
Stage 5 marks the queen stage of the 2012 Tour of Utah, the classic from Park City to Snowbird. Its 102 miles take riders over four KOM climbs, at Jordanelle, the Alpine Loop, Suncrest and Snowbird. The uphill finish comes after 10,000 feet of climbing and, as usual, should go a long way toward sorting the general classification contenders.
“Levi has talked about that stage being worthy of a grand tour,” Miller said. “It’s really becoming a cultural thing, where these spontaneous parties are starting to break out along course.”
But, the riders won’t be partying, as there’s still one day left. Stage 6 features two KOM climbs and comes out at nearly 7,000 feet of climbing, as the field rides away from Park City and back again, via the Wolf Creek Ranch and Empire Pass climbs, which surpass 20-percent gradient in places. At just 76.7 miles, the final stage should see fireworks on the climb.
“It’s a hard, hard stage,” Miller said. “It’s steep. And even though it’s short, there are two different sections on that that are really going to make tour history. We got our idea to add that stage to the Tour of Utah from Levi.”
Leipheimer was riding in the area last year after he won the event, and suggested organizers add it to the parcours. Careful what you wish for.
The 2012 Larry H. Miller runs from August 7-12.