Tour of Utah stepping up in 2006

By Mark Zalewski, North American editor

A new major road stage race is quietly but quickly building a foundation to become a major event on the road calendar in North America. The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah is a six-day stage race around the deserts, cities and ski resorts surrounding Salt Lake City.

Race director Jason Preston said that getting Miller to sign on made the difference in setting the race on course. Larry Miller is the owner of the Utah Jazz NBA basketball team - and arguably the most powerful sports name in the entire state. "Getting the Larry H. Miller group on board... they are such a player here in the state, once they came on board it opened up a lot of doors for us," said Preston. One of those doors was the Utah Sports Commission which has aided the race in securing permits for road closures and police protection.

While the race is not seeking listing on the NRC or UCI calendar this year, that is the goal for 2007. "No we don't plan on getting NRC this year," Preston explained. "But the goal is to go to the UCI next year. We want to come on the scene and take a course like Georgia took with a lower ranking UCI event. Eventually we want to be a high level UCI event."

Another indication that the race wants to walk before running is its limit to just North American teams and riders and a cap on the field size. "We are only allowing 16 teams and 100 riders -- we want to make sure it is quality," said Preston.

So far TIAA-CREF, Health Net-Maxxis, Toyota-United Pro and Navigators Insurance have committed full teams, and most others will send riders as well. "We have commitments from at least a few riders from most professional teams so we will have participation from every major U.S. team," said Preston.

The organization is committed to making this an event that lasts more than a year, and is working to build the local support to do so. "We have got huge media partners, especially locally," said Preston. "KJZZ is putting in a lot of money, so we will be able to blow the doors off locally. There is already a lot of excitement. That is what we are doing this year, getting local support."

But of course money is what drives large races like the Tour de Georgia and Tour of California, and the Tour of Utah is already forming the long-term partnerships necessary to gain substantial backing. "We also have the largest bank in the state sign on as a presenting sponsor," said Preston. "The title sponsor and presenting sponsor are both [committed for] multiple years as is the Utah Sports Commission. They all have the goal to create an international event for the future."

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