ODGEN, Utah (VN) — The 2012 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah has only just begun, but there are plenty of storylines from the day leading up to the race. This is a race without a clear favorite, other than fan favorite Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan).
The defending champion, Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) comes in with a six-man team and unsure of his form after he was hit by a car in April and sustained a broken leg. Is he ready to take up defense in Utah and, shortly thereafter, Colorado?
“We’re going to find out,” Leipheimer said, pointing to an exhausting Tour de France that saw him finish outside the top 20. “I was absolutely wrecked. I went home and could barely get off the couch.”
Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) seems like his same, old self, but the affable American is coming off the Tour and the Olympic Games. He hasn’t had much rest, but the parcours seems to suit the lithe Horner, who can climb with the best when he’s on form.
Perhaps all this opens up the door for Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist), who won here in 2009. Mancebo noted that someone could lose a bit of time in the Wednesday’s team time trial, but that there was enough climbing to take time back.
“It’s really hard this year,” the Spaniard said. “It will be hard. It’s the last day. It’s going to be hard.”
Tom Danielson? Why not? After crashing out of the Tour de France with two — yes, two — separated shoulders, the Garmin-Sharp rider headed home and has been back on the bike. Danielson climbs well enough to win this exceptionally difficult running of the Tour of Utah and his squad is a favorite for Wednesday’s team time trial.
And then, there’s Timmy Duggan, the Liquigas-Cannondale rider hailing from Boulder, Colorado. This race marks Duggan’s first on American soil in the national road race champion colors, and he was sixth here last year. Who’s to say he can’t move up? Certainly not Voigt, who came out with outright praise for the young American at the press conference.
“I am in the sport for quite some years,” he said. “And I see Timmy is always the first guy [Liquigas-Cannondale] sends out. They go, ‘Timmy, ride tempo.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s uphill or downhill or rain or sun. Very often, Timmy is the first guy to ride when there’s not one TV car out there. So you guys probably don’t know how good of a rider he is, and how strong and loyal he is. And once a year, he gets a chance to ride for himself, he takes a chance, and wins. That’s pretty brilliant. I think we see a champion in the making here.”
Voigt: RadioShack-Nissan problems are unexpected, should be more private
The issues mounting against RadioShack-Nissan have been well documented. The Leopard-Trek/RadioShack merger hasn’t fully coalesced yet, and it’s unclear if it ever will. There have been a few unlucky crashes (Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara included) and manager Johan Bruyneel has been largely absent from the public eye since his name surfaced in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s case against Lance Armstrong in June. Fränk Schleck was dismissed from the Tour de France after testing positive for a banned diuretic. There have been reports of missed paychecks to some of the team’s top riders. On these issues, Voigt was succinct.
“Sometimes I’m surprised what’s in the press and how it gets there, which is not good,” he said. “I don’t think I hurt anybody, or my team, when I say we would like to have it a little smoother. So, we shouldn’t have so many discussions about different things within the press, you know? We can do it in the team and clear things out there.”
Voigt said the many in the teams didn’t understand how difficult it would be to combine two squads of such stature.
“I think our major issue was probably that we underestimated the challenge of putting two teams together,” he said. “Apparently, that’s a lot more effort than we thought. We thought that would just fall in line, but it didn’t. So we underestimated that just a little bit. Maybe you can say we were also a little naïve about it. And that cost us, yeah, a little bit of stress.”
It’s worth noting, however, that RadioShack won the team classification at the Tour de France, has two of the most popular riders for fans in Utah in Voigt and Horner, and a potential race winner in the American.
“I think we’ve got a good momentum going, and we’re going to try to keep it now,” he said.