Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) is aiming to defend his overall title at the newly upgraded UCI 2.1 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah held between August 9-14 in the high mountains around Salt Lake City. The American has studied the event's key stages and is hopeful about his chances of winning against the top-notch competition in attendance this year.
"Hopefully I am good enough to win the Tour of Utah," Leipheimer told Cyclingnews. "There is going to be a better field here this year so I can't say that I will, but I will definitely try."
Leipheimer has recovered from his disappointing Tour de France, during which all of the team's general classification hopefuls crashed. Leipheimer went down on stage 5, and lost more than a minute, and then again on stage 7, conceding all hope of a top finish in the Tour.
The Tour de Suisse winner finished the Tour de France in 32nd place overall, more than an hour behind race winner Cadel Evans; his worst Tour de France finish of a career which included a podium placing in 2007. He is hopeful that his form will be there after a post-Tour break.
"I took nine days of barely riding my bike," Leipheimer said. "After the Tour you have to take a big rest. Especially looking forward to Utah and Colorado, which are two high altitude races, you have to recover and be fresh.
"Form after the Tour de France is always a little bit of an unknown. I'm sure I'm strong but at the same time, you try and recover and inevitably lose a little bit of that race power from resting. But, it comes back quickly. Hopefully my form comes back quick enough to ride well here."
High quality field
Race organizers took a step up by applying for a UCI 2.1 license with the sport governing body for this year's sixth edition. The upgrade permitted ProTeams and Professional Continental teams to race alongside Continental level outfits.
This year's peloton will include several riders that recently participated in the Tour de France such as Brent Bookwalter and George Hincapie (BMC Racing), Tejay Van Garderen and Danny Pate (HTC-Highroad), and Tom Danielson, Ryder Hesjedal and Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo).
RadioShack's team will include Leipheimer along with Ben King, Jason McCartney, Phil Deignan, Bjorn Selander and Janez Brajkovic along with stagiaires Dale Parker and George Bennett.
The Tour of Utah is followed by the inaugural UCI 2.1 USA Pro Cycling Challenge from August 22-28 in Colorado. That race has confirmed the top three riders in the overall classification at the Tour de France Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) along with Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale).
"Colorado has a better field coming with the entire Tour de France podium," Leipheimer said. "In my opinion the course in Utah is tougher, not as high altitude, but the climbs are tougher."
Leipheimer arrived in Salt Lake City ahead of the race to review some of the key stages that include a new uphill prologue in Park City, a revised stage one circuit race that includes three climbs in Ogden, a new and hilly stage four circuit race held in Salt Lake City and the decisive stage five finally atop Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
"I'm here early to prepare for the altitude because it is tough to come here right before and race," Leipheimer said. "I used to live here so I know the roads and I'm comfortable here. I've ridden the prologue and I know the rest of the roads. It's a hard stage race, there is no doubt about it."