Course director calls 2013 ‘the first true Tour of Utah’

Course director Todd Hageman previews the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah before its Tuesday start in Brian Head

CEDAR CITY, Utah (VN) — Over the past nine years, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah has become one of the most prestigious stage races on American soil. But it has much humbler roots.

The race began in 2004 as the Thanksgiving Point Stage Race & Cycling Festival, with 9,000 feet of climbing. It’s since blossomed into a full-fledged UCI 2.1 America Tour stage race with more than 40,000 feet of climbing.

Year after year, the Tour of Utah has lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest stage races in the U.S. And this year it’s no different: Over six days, the race will cover 587 miles and ascend 43,621 feet, with a quarter of that vertical gain coming on Saturday’s stage 6, the queen stage. All told, there are 12 King of the Mountains lines and 10 sprint lines.

For 2013, the course deviates from its traditional terrain, venturing into the red-rock country of southern Utah for the first time. Then it returns to the classic settings of years past, including the urban corridor near Salt Lake City and the precipitous climbs along the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains in the north.

“It’s the first true Tour of Utah. Before it was the tour of the Wasatch Front; we kind of stayed close to home,” said course director Todd Hageman, in his third year with the race.

“Now we’re truly visiting the state, and getting the contrast of the red rocks and the high alpine mountains. It just shows the beautiful diversity of Utah. And from a race perspective, without a time trial, it opens up this race to so many riders.”

Here’s a look at each of the stages and how they’ll shape the race for the overall title.

Stage 1

Tuesday, Aug. 6
Brian Head to Cedar City
112 miles; 5,748 feet of elevation gain
1 sprint line; 2 KOM lines

Stage 1 of the 2013 Tour of Utah starts at a lung-searing 9,600 feet, at the base of Brian Head Resort; it will be the highest starting point of any North American race this season. From the resort’s base area, the route starts with a sharp climb up to Cedar Breaks National Monument. Near here, the racers crest the day’s highest point, at 10,300 feet.

After a descent to Panguitch, the start city for Wednesday’s stage, the route follows the undulating roads of Cedar Canyon, meandering through the Dixie National Forest past ancient lava beds and alpine lakes. After reaching another summit at 9,600 feet, the racers will quickly lose 4,000 feet of elevation in just 15 miles and then finish with three laps around Cedar City and Southern Utah University.

“The biggest characteristic of stage 1 is that it has almost 11,000 feet of descending — it still has a fair amount of climbing, mostly in rollers — but then it is a long fast descent. We should see a field sprint coming into Cedar City,” Hageman said. “One thing that some people might not consider about stages 1 and 2 is the high altitude.”

Stage 2

Wednesday, Aug. 7
Panguitch to Torrey
131 miles; 9,877 feet of elevation gain
2 sprint lines; 4 KOM lines

Stage 2 will meander through terrain sculpted by 325 million years of geologic activity, visiting portions of Bryce Canyon National Park and following one of America’s most spectacular highways, the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway. Millennia of wind, rain, and sun have smoothed, softened, and eroded the multi-hued sandstone into the hoodoos, spires, mesas, cliffs, and slot canyons that make the southern Utah landscape so iconic.

The beauty of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the stretch of Highway 12 known as the “Hogsback,” and the high alpine lakes and streams of Boulder Mountain are undeniable. The race finishes in Torrey, in the shadow of Capitol Reef National Park. If you can watch only one stage of the 2013 Tour of Utah, this is the one.

“I think it’s going to be our legacy stage for years to come. It’s just breathtaking; it’s difficult with a lot of punchy climbs through a lot of red-rock area,” said Hageman. “The Hogsback is where things are going to get serious — when we get down to the Escalante River we’ll be at the race’s low point — and the Hogsback is short but it has some very steep pitches.”

At its crest, the knife-edge of rock is a serpentine ribbon of asphalt amid a sea of rock lumps and cliffs in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Finally, the race will take on Boulder Mountain, the last KOM of the day. “It’s a very long climb, almost 14.5 miles, and 4.5 percent average, and just relentless. It will bring a selection,” Hageman said. “I think we’ll see 30 or 40 guys coming into the finish at Torrey.”

Stage 3

Thursday, Aug. 8
Richfield to Payson
119 miles; 6,202 feet of elevation gain
2 sprint lines; 1 KOM line

This stage centers on one thing — Mount Nebo — which the racers will be able to see for hours before they hit the climb.

“It’s a mostly flat day and could be extremely fast; typically in the summer there are strong winds from the south, which should push the race north,” Hageman said.

After nearly 100 miles, the stage will begin the climb of the highest mountain in the Wasatch Range, the 11,928-foot Mount Nebo, which has been featured in the race six times. This year, however, the race traverses the mountain for the first time, rather than finishing atop the summit. The ascent features a 10km stretch with an average grade of 8 percent and summits at 9,300 feet, after which the peloton will have a twisting and fast 22-mile, 4,000-foot descent into Payson.

“There will definitely be some regrouping on the descent, similar to stage 2, but I think we’ll see more of a selection on Mount Nebo than on Boulder Mountain. Probably a select group of 20 guys coming in together,” Hageman said.

Stage 4

Friday, Aug. 9
Salt Lake City Circuit
33.8 miles; 3,550 feet of elevation gain

Stage 4 sees a return to a classic Tour of Utah stage: the relatively short but very challenging Salt Lake City circuit. This year’s stage is shortened to five laps and will take place at 5:30 p.m. to avoid the midday heat. After starting in front of the Utah State Capitol the course makes its way through downtown, past the University of Utah and the governor’s mansion, before a sharp right turn in front of Brigham Young’s house sends riders up the 11 percent climb toward the front door of the Capitol Building to complete the circuit.

“We got rave reviews from the riders last year. Some guys have called it a world-championship-caliber course. It’s gonna be short, but a very intense race. It’s the type of course that, if the right teams go up there, things could get blown apart. It’s a very selective course if the riders choose to race it that way,” Hageman said.

Stage 5 – “Queen Stage”

Saturday, Aug. 10
Snowbasin to Snowbird
113 miles; 10,611 feet of elevation gain
2 sprint lines; 3 KOM lines

For the fourth year in a row, stage 5 of the Tour of Utah — the “queen” stage — will climb more than two miles and traverse 113 miles of rugged, scenic Utah terrain. Unlike the last three years, racers will start from Snowbasin Resort, then go straight downhill, along the pastures and ranchland along the Morgan Valley, then up and over an imposing red-rock escarpment to East Canyon Dam.

After skirting East Canyon Reservoir the course begins a short but very steep climb over the Hogback Summit before plunging into the town of Henefer. Then it’s back to the rolling, pastoral land along the Weber River and into Park City.

Though nearly two-thirds of the day’s mileage will be complete at this point, more than two-thirds of the climbing will remain, and the showdown for the true climbers and the GC battle will begin in earnest. Riders first confront a steep ascent through the heart of Park City, up the 11 percent grade past the Ontario Mine, and then Guardsman’s Pass. Following a 14-mile descent, the race hits the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. After just a couple of miles, the racers will enter Little Cottonwood Canyon and the legendary final ascent to the finish at Snowbird resort. It packs close to 3,000 feet of elevation gain over 6.5 miles — a 9.2 percent average grade.

“It’s a relatively flat stage until you get to Park City. Then you get to the mine road and Guardsman’s Pass, and it is probably tougher than Little Cottonwood Canyon, it has a few places of relief but it’s all extremely steep sections,” Hageman said.

“There’s going to be a serious selection by the top of Guardsman’s. Then there’s another 20-mile descent down Big Cottonwood Canyon. But we should see a more select group of contenders at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon than we’ve seen in the past.”

Stage 6

Sunday, Aug. 11
Park City to Park City
78 miles; 7,633 feet of elevation gain
3 sprint lines; 2 KOM lines

Stage 6 is largely a repeat of the route that saw Levi Leipheimer win in a stunning solo breakaway in 2012. Once again, the route climbs through Wolf Creek Ranch (with six miles of new terrain this year) and across the Heber Valley before reaching the base of Empire Pass. This climb should be the scene for another all-out assault by the pure climbers and GC contenders. Following a twisty descent down the 11 percent mine road they climbed one day earlier, the race will finish on Main Street in Park City.

“I’m anticipating a lot of crankset-switching this year. Compacts are the way to go,” said Hageman. “And as much as the climbs are tough, the road surface is not an asphalt, it’s just a rough road base, so it’s bumpy, it’s uneven, and it adds a lot of character to the climb. You talk to the guys, and they put Empire Pass up with the Monte Zoncolan and the Mortirolo.”

With a bit of everything, including incredible scenery, sinister climbs, strong winds and wicked circuits, heat and high altitude, the 2013 Tour of Utah packs a continent’s worth of terrain into six days of racing. It will be a true test of a stage racer’s ability to do it all.