News feature, August 16, 2006
Former pro cyclist, author, Tour de France race announcer (on the U.S. based Outdoor Life Network), and all-around cycling personality Bob Roll was on hand for the final days of the Tour of Utah. Rolls was in town to help announce the final two stages, a circuit race in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday and a Mountain stage on Saturday, as well as lead a charity fundraising ride called the Freedom Peloton.
Speaking to Roll at Tour of Utah on Friday, the cycling veteran seemed enthusiastic about the race's ambitions and potential. "Tomorrow (Saturday's mountain-stage finale) is going to be as hard as any single day bike race in the United States," he said. "It's going to be as hard as any Tour mountain stage so a real tough guy's going to win this bike race. And since it comes at the end of six days of racing, it's going to be anybody's ballgame."
Roll says he has firsthand knowledge of the three mountain climbs in the final stage; the 5.5-mile, 2,600-foot Alpine Loop, the four-mile, 1,100 foot Traverse Ridge and the plus-seven mile, 4,500 foot ascent to the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. "When we used to race mountain bikes up here, Park City used to have a big race, a big NORBA National. I've ridden all these canyons at some time or another in the last twenty-five years during my career. They're not as steep as the Pyrenees but they are as steep as the Alps. And you start at 5,000 feet and go up from there so altitude-wise, they're a lot more dramatic than what you see in Europe."
Roll says the difficulty of the course could be a key to the race's future success. "They've changed the profile of the race one hundred percent for this year and hopefully it will continue to grow," he said. "It's tough in North America to get the right part of the year so you get the good teams and the best athletes. I think the promoter has done a really great job to get really good teams here. As the race grows and the prize money increases, and the word gets out that it's a really, tough, absolutely brutal race, it will become a challenging part of the calendar and people will want to put their names in the record books as having had success here."
How could this Tour of Utah improve? "I think if this race can grow into ten days and stay at altitude, and it's a UCI race and in an enviable part of the calendar - like two weeks before the Worlds - you will get some of the best European bike racers that don't want to do the Vuelta but still want to have a hard race at altitude. We saw that with the Coors Classic in Colorado years ago. There's no doubt about it; if they have the right slot in the calendar and UCI recognition, and the right amount of difficulty, you would have the top American teams coming over."