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by Michael Better
June 14, 2016
Photography by Oran Kelly/Cor Vos
The 2016 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will continue to stake its claim as “America’s Toughest Stage Race,” as the seven-stage race will feature 16,139 metres (52,951 feet) of climbing over the 1,133km (704-mile) course.
In its 12th year, and fourth as a UCI stage race, the 2.HC event will run from August 1-7 and will feature riders who come to race Utah fresh off the Tour de France.
Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale), who won the 2015 race in dominant fashion, is expected to return and defend his title. The skinny climber from Virginia finished alone atop the Little Cottonwood Canyon at Snowbird Ski Resort to capture the leader’s jersey on the penultimate stage. The climb hosts a stage finish again this year.
“Now in the 12th year of racing, the Tour of Utah has established itself as one of the most awe-inspiring, rolling postcards in North America for a professional sporting event,” said Jenn Andrs, executive director.
“From the iconic red rock scenery and lush national forests, Utah’s spectacular and diverse scenery will shine on the world stage with the sport’s best riders, many of them coming from the Tour de France. The opportunity to bring high-caliber racing to our fans and partners here in the United States is tremendous.”
Zion National Park will get the racing started for the 2016 event, celebrating the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. Climbing to 2,875m (9,435ft), those who are not adjusted to the altitude will be put in difficulty early in the race. A fast twisting 33km (20mi) descent from the KOM at Bristlecone into the finishing town of Cedar City could see a few riders attack near the top of the climb and try to hang on until the finish. Three finishing circuits around downtown Cedar City should see the race come back together and a sprinter pulling on the leader’s yellow jersey at the end of the day.
The long climb of Boulder Mountain is the main attraction of Stage 2. The climb features midway through the stage before a fast-sweeping descent into the town of Torrey, where the riders will tackle two laps of a rolling 27km (17mi) finishing circuit. The stage will again be another one for the sprinters and unlike when Michael Schär (BMC Racing) held off the peloton in 2014 to take the stage win, the finishing laps should make sure everything comes back together. Traversing Garfield and Wayne counties, the picturesque scenery will make this a must-watch stage.
Sitting at over 3600 metres (11,800ft) above sea level, Mount Nebo is the highest mountain in the Wasatch Range of Utah; the road crests at 2,834m (9,300ft) on the HC climb. An exhilarating 35km (22mi) technical descent to the finish in Payson may see a small bunch sprint for victory, as riders take risks on the descent to catch-up to the pure climbers of the race.
A deserving winner will stage atop the podium in Kearns as the stage has the look of a shark’s mouth with virtually not an metre of flat road featuring in the stage.The riders will tackle the 35-mile Mountain View Corridor (MVC) in the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains twice before dropping down into Kearns. In Kearns, the riders will traverse three challenging laps of a four-mile circuit that finishes adjacent to the Utah Olympic Oval, site of the speed-skating events for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
The stage is nearly identical to the one used in the 2015, where the race saw a reduced bunch sprint and young sensation Logan Owen (Axeon Hagens Berman) take an emphatic victory. It is definitely a stage for the strong riders, as the stage includes four KOMs plus a tough finishing circuit. The nine-mile finishing circuit, which the riders will tackle twice, features a tough new climb up 400 North and could shake up the finale and see a late attacker potentially take the stage win.
The Queen Stage of the race will feature over 3,400m (11,100ft) of climbing and will finish for the ninth consecutive year at the Snowbird Resort on the climb of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Guardsman Pass will serve as an appetizer for the finale. The Category 1 climbs will definitely fatigue the legs, before the hair-raising descent through Big Cottonwood Canyon toward Little Cottonwood Canyon. The final six-mile ascent to the finish will have major general classification implications, as the place where Dombrowksi sealed his overall victory in 2015.
The final stage loop around Park City has become the staple of the Tour of Utah. A final climb up the HC Empire Pass, with gradients as steep as 20 percent, sets the stage for riders to go all-in for victory. The lightning-fast descent back into Park City makes for an exciting finale to the race. New this year, the riders will tackle a circuit around downtown before a grinding climb up Main Street to the finish.
Dombrowski and 2013 Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner are among the riders expected at race.
A Horner-Dombrowski GC battle would be significant for the difference in their ages; Horner is 44, while Dombrowski is 24.
Dombrowski (Cannondale) won the overall in 2015, assuming GC leadership after his teammate Tom Danielson left the event before it began due to a doping violation.
“The Tour of Utah was the highlight of my season, and thus far, probably one of the biggest highlights of my career,” Dombrowski said. “It was my first win of anything as a pro and my first general classification win for the overall and stage race. So it was really exciting for me,” Dombrowski said. “It has been billed as ‘America’s Toughest Stage Race,’ and that’s pretty accurate.”
Dombrowski’s Cannondale teammate Mike Woods won a stage and finished second overall at last year’s Tour of Utah while riding for Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies.
The Swiss IAM Cycling team will make its inaugural appearance at the Tour of Utah. In its second appearance at the Tour de France last year, IAM Cycling finished ninth overall in the team classification.
Returning for a third time to Utah is Trek-Segafredo. At last year’s race, Trek’s Fränk Schleck finished fourth on the general classification. BMC Racing captured four podium spots in 2015, with American Brent Bookwalter winning the sprint classification and finishing third on GC.
With the cancellation of the USA Pro Challenge, the Tour of Utah has taken on increased importance for American squads; the only other U.S stage race with a 2.HC classification is the Amgen Tour of California, which recently announced that it would have 10 WorldTour teams in this year’s edition.
This year’s race marks the 12th edition of the Tour of Utah, which is owned by Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment.