TOOELE, Utah (VN) – The Tour of Utah is about to explode.
The mountains, for which the seven-day race is so famous, are looming large. One mountain, in particular: Powder Mountain. Stage 4 will finish atop the climb that’s never been used before at the Utah race, but which has been described as a beast. It will be a powder keg, exploding the general classification and offering the first indication of where the true GC contenders stand.
“I’ve ridden it a few times. I drove up it in the winter once and cars were sliding down it backwards,” said Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare), a Utah native and 2008 overall winner of the race.
Carter Jones (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), a proven climber who won the Tour of the Gila in May, has only heard stories. “I’ve not ridden it but I’ve heard terrifying things,” he said.
The race changes on Thursday.
Thus far, Belkin has had a huge role in shaping the tone and arc of the race. There’s no question that the Dutch squad came to the Tour of Utah to notch up victories
They have two stage wins in three days with their young sprinter Moreno Hofland, who took his second on Wednesday at the Miller Motorsports Park to go with his victory in Cedar City on stage 1.
But Thursday will see no lead-out trains, echelons, or bike throws, at least not at the finish. Hofland will, likely, be off the back. Belkin has a man in waiting for the Powder Mountain summit finish.
Wilco Kelderman comes to Utah highly touted, but a bit off the radar. Only 23, the Dutchman rode to an impressive seventh overall at the Giro d’Italia in May, followed by a fourth place on GC at the Critérium du Dauphiné in late June (while taking the best young rider competition), and looks ahead to compete at his second grand tour of the year at the Vuelta a España in late August.
“This is for preparation for the Vuelta. So we’ve been here already two and a half weeks. We’ll see [Thursday] how good I am,” Kelderman said. “I hope to do a good GC but I’m not now at the top level. It’s also a little bit of training. I hope to be good and fight for a stage win.”
The first of three KOMs will come on the slopes of the North Ogden Divide, a 5km climb with an average 10-percent gradient. The race then circumnavigates Pineview Reservoir as it passes under the ski slopes of Snowbasin and Wolf Mountain. After passing through the city of Ogden, it again climbs the North Ogden Divide.
The new addition to the Tour ascends over 3,000 feet in six miles, averaging 11 percent and hitting 20 percent at its steepest. To make matters worse, the road lacks switchbacks, forcing riders to stare down the climb with every crank of their pedals. Kelderman isn’t afraid.
“I prefer the climbs that are gradual. But I did the Giro and there are a lot of steep climbs,” he said.
His team has done plenty of work on the front of the peloton already, but this, too, doesn’t phase the Dutchman.
“I like that it’s not always me,” he said. “I like to ride for another guy. It’s good for the team spirit and I don’t need all the guys for myself [on the climbs], so I like it.”
On stage 4, it will be every man for himself, as the road tilts skyward, to the first mountaintop finish of the week.