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Friday’s unusual time trial is a key test for Tour of Utah contenders

TOOELE, Utah (VN) — Before the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah even began, most observers were pointing to Sunday’s epic stage from Park City to Snowbird as the race that would decide it all.

Reader Gallery, April 15, 2011
Taylor Phinney won the ToU time trial last year. Photo: Rich Rynders

TOOELE, Utah (VN) — Before the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah even began, most observers were pointing to Sunday’s epic stage from Park City to Snowbird as the race that would decide it all.

That may still be so, but Friday night’s time trial will almost undoubtedly set everything up and tell us who, exactly, is the man to beat.

With Sergio Henao holding a 13-second advantage over Levi Leipheimer — and with Oscar Sevilla, Jesse Anthony and Janez Brajkovic all within 21 seconds of the Gobernacion de Antioquia rider’s overall time — there will be some tense moments as the final five riders roll out of the starting chute at Miller Motorsports Park.

Odds are Leipheimer, one of the strongest time trial racers in the world when he is healthy, will move ahead of the Colombian youngster when stage 3 draws to a close. Henao himself admitted he expects to see the yellow jersey on the RadioShack rider Friday night.

His goal, he said through an interpreter, is to limit the time loss to Leipheimer and Brajkovic and be in position to attack when necessary on the final climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon Sunday afternoon toward the Snowbird Resort.

The time trial at Miller Motorsports Park is not your typical time trial. Instead of racing on city streets or highways where road conditions and bumps on corners can create havoc, the track designed with NASCAR and Superbike racing in mind is as forgiving a surface as a bicycle racer can hope for.

After a looping around the track on a service road outside the park, cyclists return to a 4.5-mile, 23-turn circuit that features high-banked corners and a few gentle rollers. Even the so-called hairpin turn inside the track will allow cyclists to power through with acceleration and focus on little other than pedaling as hard as they can.

Race notes

  • Bike Change: In a racing moment reminiscent of one of Jens Voigt’s most famous rides, GEOX rider Tino Thomel found himself in need of a little outside assistance on the third ascent of the North Ogden Pass during stage 1. Struggling to keep up the pace with a broken bike, Thomel pulled to the side and asked spectator Steve Hadley for a favor.Thomel hopped on Hadley’s bike — coincidentally a Fuji like the GEOX team rides — and finished the final 25 miles a little off the back, but still in the race. Hadley rode back to the GEOX bus where he exchanged bikes and was given a hat, water bottle, some autographs and sincere thanks for giving up his ride for the hour.
  • Audition Time: Big names like Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish are not the only cyclists changing teams at the end of the season. And with time running out to secure new contracts, many riders at the Tour of Utah are using the race as a chance to pad their resumes.Roman Van Uden, who slipped into the points leader jersey Thursday night, said he hopes his efforts get noticed.

    “I think this was a good time to step up and show some other teams and other riders how good of a rider I can be,” the PureBlack racer said.

    By being a big part of a two-lap breakaway on Wednesday and snagging some sprint points Thursday, the sprint jersey he’s now wearing helps that out quite a bit.

    Jeff Louder, likewise, has said he’s worried about not having his BMC contract renewed. His sixth-place finish Thursday and current 15th-place overall standing show he’s not ready to give up yet.

  • Utah’s Best: Unlike many stage races, the Tour of Utah seeks to reward its own with a special jersey. This year, the Miller Light Best Utah Rider jersey has only five competitors. All are friends and go for frequent training rides together but see the chance to wear the jersey — and claim the cash prize that comes with it at the end of the race — as a fun little race within the race.Louder is wearing the jersey after his strong finish in Provo on Thursday, taking it over from Jamis-Sutter Home’s Tyler Wren.

    Wren ran into a bit of bad luck in Provo, and was tangled up in a crash with 4k to go. Not knowing the extent of the damage and needing to hurry back into the race, Wren suffered his way to the finish line 30 seconds behind the leader thanks to a warped rear wheel.

    “I crashed and couldn’t make it back,” he said via twitter. “Realized afterwards that was because my wheel was broken. Still have lots of fight left in me.”

    The other riders eligible for the jersey this year are Bissell’s Chase Pinkham, Kelly Benefit Strategies-Optum Health’s Reid Mumford and RealCyclist.com’s Evan Hyde. The criteria for eligibility is simple: possess a current Utah driver’s license. That rules out Utah native Dave Zabriskie and former Utahn Levi Leipheimer.