In Europe, there are three Grand Tours that showcase cycling’s highest level. Italy, France and Spain are home to the three jewels in the crown. Each race is a combination of three weeks worth of individual races, or stages, with a couple of rest days thrown in for good measure. It’s said that once a rider completes his first Grand Tour, his body changes. With each stage measuring an average of over 100 miles, and tens of thousands of feet in elevation gain over the course of the entire tour, it’s no wonder a rider’s endurance and strength is changed. When pushed beyond preconceived limits, punished day after day, how can it not adapt and learn to grow even further?
American cycling may not be as storied or even as popular as the sport is across the Atlantic, but with a strong roster of local club based teams and a number of traveling, sponsored pro teams, the only trouble putting a race together can be finding sponsorship. Some races like the Tour of Gila or the Redlands Classic, (going strong for nearly 30 years and expanding in popularity, including women’s events in the schedule) include criteriums as some stages. Consider a tour like the Olympic decathlon. A rider must excel in multiple disciplines, from the compact and fast criteriums, to high elevation mountain stages, long and flat sprinters stages, and time trials.
Just as Europe has three Grand Tours, the US has three major stage races that draw more interest from both premier and mid level pro teams than they can accommodate. AGW has covered the Amgen Tour of California in depth in the past, Colorado is host to the USA Pro Challenge, and the senior-most US Tour is found in Utah. When the scheduled SCTA Speed Week landspeed racing event was cancelled at the last minute due to weather, it was an obvious decision to witness the final stage of the 2014 Larry H Miller Tour of Utah.
With the larger, top level UCI WorldTour teams enjoying the exposure in the US market, the one level down Pro Continental teams often attack early. A multi-purpose move, this brings a lot of television time to their sponsors, as well as acting as a try-out of sorts for the upper level teams. Development squads such as the Hincapie Sportswear and Bissell Development riders are given the exposure to racing in a European level peloton. This has been the case with riders such as Janier Acevedo, who joined Team Garmin-Sharp this year after taking third in both the Tour of California and Tour of Utah as well as fourth overall at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado in 2013 alone. The opportunity to challenge their senior counterparts in race situations has paid off for development squad riders like Taylor Phinney (now a vet with BMC Racing Team), Joe Dombrowski (signed to Team Sky), Nathan Brown (to Garmin-Sharp), Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing) and Lawson Craddock (Argos-Shimano). This environment often makes for exciting racing. Limited to one week of racing, overall contenders must make a commanding move to gain time over their rivals, while keeping close tabs on the ambitious riders and teams looking to make a name for themselves.
Often without riders that can battle for the overall win, the Pro Continental and Continental teams will put it all on the line in an effort to win the Sprinter’s Points jersey or the King of the Mountains jersey. Jure Kocjan of SmartStop Pro Cycling did just that, taking the Utah Sports Commission Sprinter’s Jersey. Hincapie Sportswear Development Team’s Joseph Rosskopf battled it out with teammate Robin Carpenter for the Utah Office of Tourism King of the Mountains jersey. Italian team Lampre-Merida, racing for GC contendor American Chris Horner, took home the Washakie Renewable Energy Best Team honors with the lowest combined time. BMC Racing Team’s Dylan Theuns secured the Subaru Best Young Rider’s jersey, finishing only 10 minutes behind overall winner Tom Danielson of Team Garmin-Sharp after seven days of racing. Having recovered from getting hit by a car while training in Italy earlier this year, Chris Horner rode well, claiming second in the overall standings.
There’s no debating the beauty of the landscape in Utah. The western side of the state is largely red rock lined desert, the eastern side is full of lush greenery, while the mountains in the center present a beautiful combination of both. As far as backdrops for a bike race go, it’s hard to beat Utah. With peaks above 10,000’ elevation, there are plenty of challenging routes to offer. The Tour of Utah is certainly high on the list of recommended races for any cycling fan.
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