Much like the race profiles that have characterised its routes over the past 15 years, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, which begins August 12 at Snowbird Resort, has had an up-and-down trajectory in its ability to attract UCI WorldTour teams.
The 2.HC race has seen its roster rise to as many as seven top-tier teams, and then sink as low as two. This year appears to be one of the ebbs in that flow, as the 2019 race – no doubt affected by the loss of the Colorado Classic men's race the following week – drew just EF Education First and Trek-Segafredo.
Nevertheless, the race boasts three returning champions and a rider who wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France for two days last month. The 2019 race route, although centered near the Salt Lake City hub at the north end of the state, should supply plenty of challenges, obstacles and drama on the way to crowing the 2019 winner, as well as showing off Utah's famed natural beauty.
Aside from the two WorldTour outfits, the 2019 race also includes five Pro Continental teams and 10 hungry Continental teams. The 2019 roster also includes riders who are continuing their build up toward the Vuelta a España, and others who are restarting after a mid-season break and are aiming past the Vuelta toward late-season jewels like the Quebec, Canada, WorldTour races and the UCI Road World Championships this September in Yorkshire.
Three former Tour of Utah winners are planning to return to the race this year, although 2018 champion Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) is not among them as the American is heading to the Vuelta a Espana, which starts August 24.
Canadian Rob Britton, the 2017 winner in Utah, will return this year with his Rally UHC Cycling team, hoping to rebound from a disappointing 2018 performance that saw him finish 12th overall. Britton and his US Pro Continental team will face stiff competition for the title from EF Education First, which in previous iterations won the overall in Utah three times between 2013 and 2015 with Tom Danielson and then Joe Dombrowski, the 2015 champion who will return this year.
Dombrowksi will be joined on the EF Education First roster by Lachlan Morton, who won the race in 2016 when he rode with Jelly Belly. Tejay van Garderen, who joined the Jonathan Vaughters-run team this season, was on the provisional Utah roster but was scratched when the team released its official roster, which now includes just six riders.
The American WorldTour team is also bringing Colombian Dani Martinez, third last year at the Tour of California and who recently defended his Colombian time trial title after recovering from two broken hands. Aside from three possible general classification riders, the team's roster includes a solid crew of workers, including US road champion Alex Howes, Lawson Craddock and James Whelan. On paper at least, EF Education First is the team to beat this year.
Giulio Ciccone won't have his yellow jersey in Utah, but he may bring his Tour form (Bettini Photo)
Giulio Ciccone, a 2018 Tour of Utah stage winner, is flourishing in his move to Trek-Segafredo this year after taking second on stage 6 of the Tour de France and wearing yellow for two days. Ciccone most recently finished 11th at Clasica San Sebastian, his 67th race day so far this year, so there is some question as to how much gas the 24-year-old Italian will have left in his tank for Utah. Ciccone will have American teammates Kiel Reijnen, a two-time Tour of Utah stage winner, and climber Peter Stetina on the team roster.
Ben Hermans, second last year in Utah with Israel Cycling Academy, will return this year to try and add the Tour of Utah to his palmares, which already include overall wins at the Tour of Oman, the Tour of Austria, De Brabantse Pijl and Trofeo Inca-inca. The 33-year-old Belgian is coming off his second overall win in Austria and a runner-up finish at the Adriatica Ionica Race won by Bahrain-Merida's Mark Padun.
With just two WorldTour teams in the line up and no defending champion, the race will be deep with opportunity for other lesser-known riders to rise to the occasion.
Elevate-KHS's James Piccoli was 10th overall at the Tour of Utah in 2017 but had to abandon after the prologue opener last year. Piccoli says he's targeting a top GC result this year, including having spent hours previewing courses and studying every detail. The 2019 Tour of the Gila winner also won the Mont-Megantic stage at Tour de Beauce in June and claims to be in top form coming into the race.
Hagens Berman Axeon is bringing another crop of young talent from the team's seemingly never-ending stream of U23 riders, and any of them could spring a surprise. Aevolo, a relative newcomer to the development game, has ridden well in Utah in the past with Luis Villalobos and will ride aggressively in an effort to show well again this year.
Serghei Tvetcov and Jonny Clark of Floyd's Pro Cycling, which has re-branded as "Worthy Pro Cycling" for this race, have both ridden well at Utah in the past, with Tvetcov finishing on the podium in 2017. The team will also be minding the ambitions of four-time Tour of Utah stage winner Travis McCabe.
Big climbs and high altitude are typical for Utah (Jonathan Devich/EpicImages.us)
The race that bills itself as 'America's Toughest' shook things up for 2019 after years of a traditional Queen stage that took riders over Guardsman Pass outside of Park City and then finished with the climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird Resort.
Snowbird returns this year, but the ski hill and summer play area is at the front end of the seven-day race for 2019, hosting the 5.3km prologue time trial. In all, the 2019 race covers nearly 768km and 11,550 metres of climbing over seven stages.
Whoever comes to Utah hoping to win the overall better show up with no warm-up needed. After the prologue, which climbs 200 metres on the up-and-down course, the peloton will take on 140 lumpy kilometres in a stage 1 that starts and finishes in North Logan City. The climbs on this stage are only category 4s, but they come in rapid succession on the finishing circuits.
Stage 2 to Powder Mountain could very well decide the overall. The final 14km climb to the ski area is a leg-ripper that comes after the peloton has already climbed the category 2 North Ogden Divide, and it is the only summit finish of the race. The stage climbs a total of 2,230 metres. When the race finished here last in 2014, Danielson won the stage by almost a minute ahead of Hermans [riding for BMC Racing at the time] and Chris Horner. Danielson, who announced testing positive for a prohibited substance on the eve of the 2015 race, took the lead on Powder Mountain in 2014 and held it all the way to the finish.
Stage 3 from Antelope Island State Park to North Salt Lake could be a day for the sprinters, but the category 3 climb on the finishing circuits could provide a nice jumping-off point for opportunists hoping for a stage win.
The stage 4 circuit race in downtown Salt Lake City has become a rider and fan favourite, and over the years the various iterations of the course have provided different types of winners. In 2019, the uphill-but-fairly straightforward start/finish hill favours a rider like Marco Canola (Nippo Vini Fantini Faizanè), who won a similar stage here in 2017.
The penultimate stage no longer takes the peloton over Guardsman Pass and up to Snowbird, but organisers have found a suitable replacement with this stage 5 that starts and finishes at Canyons Village in Park City. The 137km route climbs 1,596 metres and takes in KOMs at Jordanelle [category 4], Browns Canyon [category 4] and through the Utah Olympic Park [category 2] just over 4km from the finish.
The final day in Utah revisits the traditional finale with a stage that starts and finishes in Park City. The route takes in Kamas and the category 2 climb through the affluent gated community of Wolf Creek Ranch, then descends to Midway for a final intermediate sprint of the week and a short run to Empire Pass, the last major obstacle for anyone who wants to win the Tour of Utah.
The 14km climb ascends through Aspen groves and then past the tree line, topping out 9km from the finish before a white-knuckle descent back to Main Street in Park City and a coronation for the 2019 overall winner.
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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