Several US-based teams with strong contenders for the overall are taking this year's Tour of Utah seriously enough to hold pre-event training camps to prepare for the six-stage race set to begin on August 18.
Set in the mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah, the race will hit elevations as high as 2600m (8,500 feet), and riders need to prepare for the altitude well in advance.
The camps come at the expense of participation in this weekend's National Calendar criteriums, the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational and Hanes Park Classic, which offer up nearly the same amount of points toward the series overall, but over more challenging terrain.
Team BMC is one outfit that headed out early to prepare for what is arguably the toughest stage race in the US. Defending champion Jeff Louder, who resides in Salt Lake City, will be joined by his teammates for a 10-day training camp aimed at scouting the decisive climbs, but more importantly allowing riders time to acclimate to the higher altitude.
"The critical selection takes place at high elevation and it's hard to race at high elevation without being acclimated physiologically." said Gavin Chilcott, directeur sportif.
"There is a difference in styles to race effectively at altitude. Even if you're completely acclimated, you don't have the ability to race the same as you would at sea level. Being on the higher resistance on long climbs is important, but it's also about getting used to producing high output at high elevation."
After a short prologue, stage one of this year's event passes over Big Mountain (2000m) before a stage two finish atop Mt. Nebo (2600m). A technical time trial offers a break in the climbing before riders hit the second mountain finish at the Snowbird ski resort (2500m). The race concludes on August 23rd with a flat criterium.
Last year, BMC's team training camp in Utah bore fruit when Louder won the overall title. This year, top-notch squads like Rock Racing and Bissell have caught on to the importance of preparing at higher elevation and are taking the extra time to reconnoitre the key ascents of the race.
"Just to survive, guys are going early," said Tom Zirbel, the team's time trial specialist from Boulder, Colorado. "Some of the team is going to Utah early but I'm at altitude anyway so I won't be going. They wanted to do some riding, see the courses and try to get accustom to the altitude.
"The altitude itself plays a big role and the courses are so selective. I don't see myself as one of the guys fighting for the win, it's Burke's [Swindlehurst] race to win, he's our best shot."
Oscar Sevilla,the winner of this year's Cascade Cycling Classic, is aiming at putting on another winning show at the Tour of Utah. He and his teammates are also taking the time to preview the parcours before the racing begins.
"The Tour of Utah is very similar to Cascade," said Sevilla after his win in July. "There is a lot of climbing and I want to have a good race there. I will go to Los Angeles for a few days to recover and then take a week training camp in Utah to prepare for the stage race."