Tour of Utah report: The Beehive State turns out top cyclists

PARK CITY, Utah (VN) — Utah has a nice history of producing top-level cyclists.

2010 Tour of Utah, Jeff Louder at Snowbord
It doesn't get easier, you just get faster. Utah native Jeff Louder at the finish in Snowbird last year. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

PARK CITY, Utah (VN) — Utah has a nice history of producing top-level cyclists.

From Marty Jemison to Chase Pinkham, cyclists from the Beehive State have taken advantage of the beautiful roads along the Wasatch Front to develop into professional cyclists of all levels.

Accordingly, it’s with a certain degree of pride that Utah’s cycling community welcomes the ascension of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah to the UCI Calendar.

“The roads of Utah are where I cut my teeth as a cyclist,” Levi Leipheimer, the defending Tour of Utah champion, said. “Salt Lake has a very healthy cycling community and I couldn’t be happier to see the race grow the way it has.”

Leipheimer isn’t a Utah native, but he moved from Montana to Salt Lake City during high school to pursue a possible career as an alpine skier. Along the way, he grew into one of America’s top young cyclists and launched what has been a very successful professional career.

David Zabriskie, likewise, no longer owns a Utah drivers license, but grew up in Salt Lake and is still a big favorite among those lining the course this week.

“Earlier in the year I’d been excited about the Tour of Utah, looking to show off some Tour de France form and bust it open a bit for the home-town fans. But I’m still not 100 percent and not nearly in the condition I had wanted to be for this stage race event,” Zabriskie wrote on his blog, referring to the broken wrist he suffered early in the Tour de France. “Although I haven’t been able to train super hard I’ll give it my best go this week. I’m excited to ride for our guys … It’ll be ‘painful’ fun to support them.”

BMC’s Jeff Louder, also a born-and-raised Salt Laker, has been racing in Utah almost as long as he can remember. His father, Ken, has been a competitive racer for decades and Jeff remembers borrowing his bike and making an attempt to climb Little Cottonwood Canyon — the sight of the Tour of Utah’s epic final climb. That trip didn’t go so well, Louder said, and ended with a frown after giving up just a mile or two into the climb.

Now, however, Louder is a former Tour of Utah champion and has his eyes set on returning to the podium this year after a somewhat peaceful season so far.

“This is my home state and I have extremely high ambitions,” Louder said. “For me, this is something I’ve been talking about since the (final) stage ended last year.”

The Tour of Utah faced a bit of a dilemma after wrapping up last year. With an eye on an eventual growth to UCI status, event organizers were faced with a decision when the USA Pro Cycling Challenge popped up in Colorado with UCI status. Knowing there was an opportunity to accelerate the Tour of Utah’s growth and work in a virtual partnership with the Colorado race to attract ProTeams, the Larry H. Miller family decided to skip a couple steps in its long-range plan for the race.

By opening up the budget, finding several new sponsors and partnering with the Utah state government, the Tour of Utah stepped up its game and is already committed to a 2012 race.

“This is the kind of thing you want to see in your capitol city,” said David Everitt, chief of staff for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

With six days of racing, stretching over 409 miles and including nearly 30,000 feet of climbing, the Tour of Utah has 118 athletes this year representing 21 countries.

“For me, the Tour of Utah is a special race,” Leipheimer said. “I’m excited to see it grow the way it has. I think the future of cycling in the U.S. looks really good with races like this.”