Victory escaped Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) in the previous two editions of the Tour of Missouri. However, this year, the former USPro criterium champion hopes to triumph in front of an abundance of home-state fans.
When asked if there was one particular stage that he targets, Huff responded, "not specifically but, I'm hoping to perform well the entire week. It will help being from the area, but it will be hard to focus on just one stage because it's not going to be easy."
This year marks the third edition of the Tour of Missouri and the riders can expect some significant course changes. The seven-stage race has completely flipped in direction beginning east in St. Louis and headed west toward its conclusion in Kansas City. Not only is there the addition of a flat stage five time trial in Sedalia, several key stages have become more suited to sprinters like Huff.
"It's definitely helpful for me that the stages are geared more toward sprinting," Huff said. "But, this race is still going to be a hard-man's race. The course profiles don't show how difficult the terrain actually is here. There may not be a sustained climb that causes separation but it's the constant number of hills that take it out of the riders."
Domestic sprinters like Huff are gearing up for an opportunity to take on ProTour sprinters like Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC). Cavendish made history when he won his sixth stage of this year's Tour de France on the Champs-Elysées.
"Yeah, I'm excited about it," said Huff who sprinted onto the podium at the Tour of Missouri last year and inside the top ten several times. "Last year I rode very well, considering the team that he has and that other Americans have. I hope for another podium place and to do as well as last year. I've come close in the previous editions of the Tour of Missouri and so I also hope to better that."
The 2007 inaugural Tour of Missouri saw a large fan base for Huff, who was raised in Fair Grove and is now a resident of Springfield. Now, he is looking forward to putting on a show for his family and friends who have scheduled their summer vacation time during the cycling event.
"I grew up here, I train here. All my friends and family live across the State," said Huff. "It's great they come out to watch this caliber of a race. I have great fans and a support network all over the state. I'm lucky in that sense."
Although Huff is always pleasantly surprised to see his fans out to cheering, he admitted he was more surprised at the total number of spectators out to watch the stage race as a whole.
"No one knew what the response would be from the communities around the state and they were as excited as the riders were to see how many people were out to see the race. People [spectators] want someone that they can connect with, to know they have a relationship with - someone from the area racing in the event will increase their enjoyment. On my side, I didn't know if my friends would be able to get away from work. Them getting to cheer for me on top of the (excitement of the) whole race is a bonus."