There is just one race in the United States garnering attention this week and all eyes are on the newly upgraded Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The six-day 2.1-rated race began Tuesday at the Utah Olympic Park and concludes Sunday atop the steep, 16km climb to Snowbird resort. Best Utah Rider Jeff Louder (BMC Racing) will head into Saturday’s Salt Lake City circuit race with double motivation from his jersey and the memories of times spent riding Louder Loop with his dad.
Louder found himself in familiar territory Thursday, pulling on a leader’s jersey near Salt Lake City, when he finished safely in the crash-filled finale of stage 2 to take command of the Best Utah Rider competition. The Salt Lake City native is a former overall winner of the tour and took the demanding Park City Criterium stage in 2010. That win was particularly meaningful; after going solo for an hour, Louder pointed to the sky as he crossed the line, thinking about friend and former race director Terry McGinnis, who had passed away months earlier after a long battle with cancer.
Due to UCI rules prohibiting criteriums in international stage races, that penultimate-day crit is replaced this year by a new circuit in Salt Lake City. The brutal 11 laps around the northeast side of the city hold a special place in Louder’s heart — and that of his father, Ken, who pioneered a portion of the route in the 1970s. In fact, a local group ride, which he takes part in before work to this day, uses a portion of Saturday’s course.
That route carries the family’s name: the Louder Loop.
“It’s been known as such since Jeff was a kid,” Ken Louder told VeloNews after parking the VIP car he is driving for the race this week. “I stopped riding all-together for 19 years and so I rode it for the first time with Jeff after he turned pro, in 2000.”
The elder Louder, an accomplished amateur racer, hung up his bike when Jeff’s younger sister was born (Jeff was 3) and only returned to the sport when the BMC rider went on his first stint to Belgium, with Tönisteiner-Colnago, in 2000. Since then he’s won multiple national championship medals and has competed in the masters world championships.
“He wanted to ride with me on my easy days,” said Jeff Louder. “So he fixed his old bike up and brought it to Belgium. We rode together between races and to a couple kermesses I raced in, and now he’s hooked again. He’s full gas, as serious as I am.”
The Louder Loop, an hour-long route from the family’s home, includes Bonneville Boulevard around City Creek Canyon (site of the 2009 and 2010 prologue) and the long false flat on 11th Avenue above the city that approaches the University of Utah.
“I’ve always done this out training and fantasized about racing and how cool it would be,” said Louder, who sat 14th overall, 2:59 down, on GC Friday morning. “For as long as I’ve been a racing cyclist, I’ve always sort of imagined that route and being able to race on it. To realize that is a dream come true.”
Racing on the 7.4-mile circuit may be a dream for Louder, but come lap nine or ten, that dream is going to hurt an awful lot. The race through the state capital includes a maximum 13-percent gradient ramp of State Street, from downtown to the Capitol, every lap, followed by a 2.5-mile false flat to the University. The stage will finish atop the climb near the start of the old prologue course.
When Louder won the Park City criterium last year, the stage decimated the field and the high-altitude fatigue had very real effects on the final stage to Snowbird.
“It’s really, really tough,” said the Louder the father. “It’s going to be hard like Park City last year. It will do well to replace the crit. The distance and elevation for the first part of every lap is very similar to Tuesday’s prologue.”
Louder the son said he was excited about the stage – and his upgraded home tour in general – before the start of the prologue.
“It’s short enough and not so steep, a lot of people can survive that in my mind, but it will be a guy like (Francisco) Mancebo or (Levi) Leipheimer (winning),” he said. “Is it physically harder than a 90-minute climb? Not necessarily, but harder if you get caught out and have to chase for a lap and blow up your team. It’s is a bit harder (than in 2010), especially being much more complicated.”
No one is better able mentally to sort out the complications on home roads Saturday. The stage, second to last before the big day to Snowbird, will likely prove decisive and while Louder’s dream is to race on the loop bearing his name, the real dream would be a stage win there.