The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will return for its 10th year next week with a longer, tougher route, a field that includes three former Grand Tour winners and the potential for a rematch between 2013 winner Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) and runner-up Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida).
The seven-day race begins Monday, August 4, in Southern Utah and makes its way north, finishing in Park City on August 10 after 1,213km of racing and a whopping 19,640 meters of elevation gain.
The field for the UCI 2.1 race features six WorldTour teams, including Belkin, BMC, Cannondale, Garmin-Sharp, Lampre-Merida and Trek Factory Racing. Novo Nordisk and UnitedHealthcare from the US represent the Pro Continental ranks, along with Drapac Pro Cycling from Australia. The seven Continental teams rounding out the 16-team field are Bissell Development, Hincapie Sportswear, Jamis-Hagens Berman, Jelly Belly-Maxxis, Optum Pro Cycling, Team SmartStop and Funvic Brasilinvest.
Horner, the 2013 Vuelta a Espaňa champion, will return after having just recently finished the Tour de France. He's already said publicly that he will be in Utah for training and will likely back off if he feels he needs more rest leading up to the Spanish Grand Tour. With Winner Anacona Gomez as the notable exception, the Lampre-Merida squad backing Horner in Utah is relatively inexperienced, including two stagiaires.
Garmin and Danielson, by comparison, appear to be taking the title defense very seriously. Danielson skipped the Tour de France this year and spent July preparing for Utah and the USA Pro Challenge. He brings a squad that is rich in enthusiasm and talent, including three riders fresh off their first appearances in the Tour de France: Janier Acevedo, Ben King and Alex Howes. Thomas Dekker, Steele Von Hoff and Phil Gaimon join 2013 Utah stage winner Lachlan Morton on the provisional roster.
If the timing isn't right for Horner to challenge Danielson and Garmin this year, some of the other names on the provisional start list should provide plenty of firepower to take on the 2013 winner.
Belkin will be in Utah with rising star Wilco Kelderman, the 23-year-old who finished seventh overall in the Giro d'Italia in May. Kelderman has been resting since June and is ramping up for his first run at the Vuelta. The Dutch rider has a history of riding well in August, having won the 2.HC Tour of Denmark about this time last year. Kelderman can climb well, but his best results have come in the time trial discipline that Utah lacks.
Another threat for Danielson and Garmin could come from BMC, which will be in Utah with a strong team that includes 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, Michael Schär and US rider Brent Bookwalter. Two-time Giro winner Ivan Basso will anchor a Cannondale squad that also features Kiwi George Bennett and American Ted King. Trek Factory Racing's roster includes 2011 US pro champ Matthew Busche and retiring German strongman Jens Voigt.
America's toughest race just got tougher
When you trademark a phrase like “America's Toughest Race,” which the Tour of Utah has done, you've set the bar pretty high. Organizers backed it up this year with an added day and a few more obstacles at altitude.
The most notable addition for 2014 is the summit finish on Powder Mountain for the end of stage 4. The 168km route ascends two KOMs before the final effort, which climbs nearly 1,000 meters in less than 10km. In a race that has no individual time trial, the new stage will be an added opportunity for the climbers to claim the top general classification spots.
The red rock canyons and plateaus of Southern Utah will provide a beautiful backdrop for the start of the 2014 tour, but geological features with names like the Devil's Backbone betray the brutal nature of the Utah desert. Sun-baked landscapes and elevations that peak above 3,000 meters should give riders all they can handle.
The peloton will feel the heat on the first stage, a 182.5km circuit that climbs 2,700 meters before descending to three finishing circuits in Cedar City. Sprinters who can hang on over the two KOMs might have a shot for victory and the first leader's jersey.
Stage 2 sends riders up another 3,100 meters of climbing over four KOMs. At 210km, the route from Panguitch to Torrey is the longest of the week, but a fast descent over the last 30km could bring the bunch back together for the finish.
Breakaway opportunists and sprinters will be licking their chops for Wednesday's stage from Lehi to Miller Motorsports Park. The 190km route has one KOM just before the halfway mark and then a long gradual downhill run to what will likely be a sprint finish. For the first time ever, the Tour of Utah will also host a women's race on the auto track before the men finish there.
Stage 4 and the finish on Powder Mountain will give the GC contenders their first real chance to set a pecking order. Closely stacked climbs over North Ogden Divide and the finish should open up big gaps in the peloton.
Stage 5 on Friday looks like another day for a long breakaway or a bunch sprint. Riders start in Evanston, Wyoming, before climbing to the stage's highest point on Bald Mountain about halfway through the race. From there, they speed toward the finish in Kamas.
With a likely break in the general classification action during stage 5, the traditional Queen Stage from Salt Lake City to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort should reignite the fireworks the next day. The stage 6 route includes four KOMs, most notably the daunting trip over Guardsman's pass about 40km from the finish. The race ends with the long, steep grind to Snowbird, where Horner grabbed the overall lead last year after he and Danielson dropped all the other contenders.
Park City will host the race's finalé for the fourth year on a course that was introduced in 2013. Riders leave Park City for a short-but-sweet 125.5km circuit that will take them up more than 2,300 meters of climbing. The day's major obstacle is the climb up and over Empire Pass about 10km from the finish.
Danielson dropped Horner and won the overall last year on Empire Pass, which ascends from the Wasatch County valley floor up multiple switchbacks into Aspen forests near the top. A harrowing descent off the mountain and back into downtown Park City crowns the winner.