'Heyday' of cycling with three major stage races
The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah is one of three stage races to attract the sport's top teams in 2011, and together with the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado it has brought about the "heyday" of cycling for the United States, according to USA Cycling COO Sean Petty.
Speaking at the press conference in Salt Lake City, Petty applauded the race organisation, in particular Larry Miller, who was the driving-force behind the creation of the race and after whom the event was named following his death. The event became UCI-licensed for the first year, and immediately was given a 2.1 status - something which Petty said was unusual.
"Usually a race starts at 2.2 status before working up to 2.1, but we made an exception for Utah because of the reputation of this race - it's known for its quality and its difficulty.
"We are grateful for the vision of the Millers and their perseverance: sticking with this race and promoting it and elevating it, because it's truly going to be a great event."
The race has attracted five ProTeams, four Professional Continental squads and seven Continental teams, and brought in riders from across the globe.
"This is the heyday for American cycling," Petty said. "We have the greatest amount of high level racing that we've ever had at one time, and it's a credit to the drive of the sport and the teams driving it."
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) agreed with the assessment, listing the three big US races, four WorldTour teams and the fact that a US team won the Tour de France (BMC) as evidence.
"The health of US cycling is at an all time high and it's thanks to sponsors like Larry H. Miller, and BMC and RadioShack that have invested in the sport," Leipheimer said.
Hometown hero Jeff Louder (BMC) was happy to welcome the peloton to his hometown of Salt Lake City and said he is grateful that this event happens. "There's great terrain here and it's a perfect venue for cycling," Louder said.
The Tour begins in nearby Park City, Utah on Tuesday with a short but painful two kilometer uphill prologue, and on the first stage, riders will face the North Ogden Pass three times - a climb which Louder describes as "a very hard climb". "We did it in '08 and we went over the top with 15 guys." But with 40 kilometers after the climb before the finish line, Louder predicts that some riders who aren't pure climbers will be able to get themselves back into contention.
The second road stage is one for the sprinters, followed by a 14.5 kilometer time trial and a sprint-friendly circuit in Salt Lake City before the queen and final stage to Snowbird Ski Resort on Sunday.
"It's going to be tension all the way to the end; the climax is the end, and that's interesting. A lot of times you have a parade at the end, but Snowbird is no parade. You can have a perfect race then fall apart in the last kilometer," said Louder.
PureBlack Racing's Glen Chadwick brings his squad of young Kiwis as one of the top-ranked teams in the USA, bringing years of experience of racing the Tour of Utah and an intimate knowledge of the climb to Snowbird Ski Resort, which has been in the race every year.
"Snowbird is a deceptive climb, I've made a few mistakes there going too early and paid the consequence, it's a special climb," Chadwick said, adding that he hopes to get some good results for his team before they return home to New Zealand.
"This is our last race in the States for the season, it's all or nothing now. We'll go out there and do what we've been doing all year. Hopefully we can get something out of it, but it's an honour to be here with this caliber of field."