"America’s toughest" stage race gets even tougher
The event that bills itself as America’s toughest stage race just got tougher.
The Tour of Utah is already known for the punishing climb from Wasatch Mountain State Park up the Pine Canyon Road to Empire Pass overlooking Park City. But Park City resident Todd Hageman said there’s a new monster on the tour this year: the climb at the end of Stage Four from Ogden to Powder Mountain.
"Oh, it’s brutal," he said. "It is just a vicious, violent climb."
And Hageman should know. As the technical director for the Tour of Utah, he designs the courses.
"This new addition to the Tour ascends over 3,000 feet in just six miles," says the tour’s website. "To make it even tougher, the road lacks switchbacks, forcing riders to stare down this beast of a climb with every crank of their pedals."
But is it worse than that climb into Park City?
"I think so," Hageman said. "Tanner and I went up there about a month ago and Tanner agrees. He says it’s worse than Empire."
"Tanner" is Tanner Putt, the 22-year old Park City resident who just defended his under-23 national title at the 2014 USA Cycling Amateur and Para-cycling Road Nationals in Madison, Wis. A member of the Bissell Development Team, Putt is scheduled to compete in the Tour of Utah for the third time. Last year he finished eighth in the tour’s Best Young Rider competition, 49th overall.
On Aug. 4, Putt will join 127 other riders, including younger brother Christopher, for the first stage of the tour that starts and ends in Cedar City. The seventh and final stage will begin and end in Putt’s hometown on Aug. 10.
And that cast of characters just got tougher too. According to a July 23 press release from tour organizers, this year’s roster of 128 professional cyclists also includes Cadel Evans, the 2011 champion of the Tour de France, Ivan Basso, two-time champion of the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), and the top three finishers in last year’s Tour of Utah: Tom Danielson, Chris Horner and Janier Acevedo. Horner is also the reigning champion of the three-week Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain). Eight of the 128 riders are currently competing in this month’s Tour de France.
Among the racers to watch, Hageman lists Evans, Basso and Horner.
"And my fourth pick would be a young kid called Wilco Kelderman. He’s actually in town now with the Dutch team Belkin. They’ve been in Park City for a week already," he said. According to VeloNews, Kelderman finished seventh in this year’s Giro d’Italia, passing Evans during the final mountain stage.
Hageman said Belkin Pro Cycling is one of several teams that are already training in the area.
"It’s been great to see all these teams come into Park City one to two weeks ahead of time. It’s really turned Park City into a cycling Mecca for Tour of Utah teams."
Besides the Powder Mountain climb, Hageman points to Stage 5, which starts in Evanston and ends in Kamas, as one of the biggest changes on this year’s tour.
"We’re starting outside the state for the first time," he said. "(And) that will be the first time that we’ll be finishing in eastern Summit County. I’ve got to say Kamas has been hitting it out of the park in regards to organization and excitement up there. So it’s been really exciting to see eastern Summit County embrace the tour and cycling in general." He said the tour has passed through Kamas in eight of the past 10 years, but this is the first time it has been a host city.
Hageman said Park City residents will get several chances to watch the race in their hometown. During Stage 6, on Saturday, Aug. 9, the tour will go up Marsac Avenue (the Ontario Mine road) en route to Guardsman Pass and Snowbird. The sixth and final stage on Sunday, which will start and finish on Main Street in Park City, includes the ride from Wasatch Mountain State Park to Empire Pass then down Marsac Avenue into Park City.
"On Saturday, the best place (to watch) is going to be up on the Guardsman Pass-Empire Pass area, which is going to be really exciting," Hageman said. "We had big crowds up there last year. And then on Sunday, all the activity, I think, is going to be on Main Street. Once the riders go out (there will be) chalk art and kids’ races. The race will be on big-screen TV. And for those adventurous people, going to Empire Pass should be another option as well, to see it up close."
He said that spectators at Empire Pass will get a better look at the racers on the climb rather than the descent. "They’re going to be hitting some incredibly high speeds coming down from Empire Pass and down the mine road."
As the tour’s technical director, Hageman is also responsible for on-the-road logistics such as working with host communities, law-enforcement agencies and government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service.
"We work on this year-round, so it’s exciting and nerve-wracking, a bit, to see 12 months of work come down to seven days."
For course maps, stage descriptions and a "tour tracker" smart-phone app, visit tourofutah.com.
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