In Pro Challenge’s absence, Tour of Utah gains momentum

The Tour of Utah has become the most significant stage race on the American racing calendar's second half.

Before this year, the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge created a 15-day bloc of racing on the second half of the American cycling calendar. Sponsors, fans, teams and riders focused on the two events, with the Colorado race earning greater attention due to its bigger crowd sizes and larger media footprint.

This year, with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on hiatus, the Tour of Utah has become the premier American cycling event on the racing calendar’s back half. According to race management, the race has seen an uptick in its sponsor lineup, VIP attendance, and even its domestic and international TV footprint.

The race has also gained importance for American pro teams.

“Before, with [USA Pro Challenge] and Utah, you had 15 total days of racing, which is 15 opportunities to get a great result,” says Mike Tamayo, director of Team UnitedHealthcare. “Now you’re down to seven opportunities to get a result. So there’s more pressure to do well at Utah.”

Boost in Business

According to Jenn Andrs, executive director for the race, the race has grown its media footprint, sponsor lineup, and domestic and international television coverage. In the offseason the race added new partners Clif Bar and Mavic, both of which were partners of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Its foreign television coverage also grew. Sports media IMG sold the race’s 2016 TV package to Belgian TV network Eleven Sports, France’s L’Equipe 21, and Sky Sports in New Zealand. Fox is also distributing the race in Australia.

Fox’s domestic TV coverage is also up this year, from 14 to 28 total hours of race coverage, including a primetime slot each night on the FS2 channel.

Andrs said the race has also seen an uptick in sales for its VIP packages.

“We saw some groups that were hoping to do business in Colorado that came to us instead,” Andrs said. “And we were able to absorb a few partners from [the USA Pro Challenge], but most of our exclusive categories were already full.”

Andrs did not disclose the financial boost the race will see this year. Like the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the Tour of Utah relies heavily on sponsorship to cover the race’s expenses. The race has 12 marquee sponsors in its lineup, as well as 42 smaller partners. Andrs valued the larger sponsorships in the low to mid six-figures annually.

“We’re committed to growing the race slowly, and we’re moving in the direction to become a bigger player internationally,” Andrs said.

The race’s ownership, the Larry H. Miller, pays for the event’s costs that are not covered by sponsorship. The Larry H. Miller group owns 17 separate companies, including the Utah Jazz NBA team, a collection of successful auto dealerships, and movie theaters.

Andrs said the race does not yet break even, and that reaching the break-even point is not the primary goal of the event.

“Right now we’re not focused entirely on making money — we’re committed to showcasing Utah,” Andrs said. “I’d love to make a profitable event but we still have a ways to go.”

Riders peaking for Utah

Utah’s added importance has shifted the racing and training schedule for many domestic teams. Instead of using the race as a fitness boost for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Utah is now the big prize.

“It’s a bigger part of the schedule now,” said Danny Van Haute, director of the Jelly Belly Pro Cycling Team. “It’s huge for us.”

Jelly Belly and others have spent the last few weeks hosting training camps at altitude to prepare for the race. Team UHC stationed its riders in Utah this year to train for the race. The Rally cycling team rented a house in Nederland, Colorado to train at altitude.

Rob Britton of the Rally Cycling Team, who finished third at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last year, said he is peaking for Utah this year. In years past, that was not the case.

“I used to go into Utah a bit more fresh knowing that the fitness would build toward Colorado,” Britton said. “Now Utah is really the only race that suits me now. Alberta has a time trial but it’s more of a strong man or sprinter who wins it.”

Teams have also had to target Utah with their best squads. Before, they could rotate riders in and out of the lineup for Utah and the USA Pro Challenge in order to give multiple riders a taste of the climb-heavy stage races. Now, riders who do not compete in Utah have to find other events.

Tamayo said a handful of UHC riders will target local criteriums during the week. Rally team manager Jonas Carney is sending a squad of riders to compete in the July 31-August 9 Tour of Guadeloupe Islands.

“I was going to have eight guys racing Utah and eight guys with nothing to do,” Carney said.

Carney will also come to Utah with a larger number of VIP guests, sponsor staff, and team family and friends. Races serve as an important showcase for sponsors and VIPs. With the USA Pro Cycling Challenge gone, Utah is now the last big opportunity to show a team’s racing value to its backers.

“Utah is the big event now. Utah is the focus,” Carney said. “July has been all about one thing, and that’s getting ready for Utah.”