“I have just to do what I do, race aggressively, race my race and I am confident that if things go well, if I have the right luck and the good legs, I can do it again. I’d like to try.” laughed Louder during our conversation prior at the start of his team’s altitude training camp. “I’m going in with confidence but I don’t think that I’m the rider to beat this year.”
While Louder is definitely going into the race to win, he identified the Rock Racing duo of Cascade Cycling Classic winner Oscar Sevilla and and his teammate Francisco Mancebo as the danger men.
“The way that they rode at Cascade was above and beyond what I was capable of there, obviously it’s a month later now…. Those guys are class acts, the pair of them, to me they are the ones that everyone is going to have to contend with if they want to win.”
In last year’s edition, Louder put his mark on the race by winning the Queen Stage with the final climb up his mountain, Snowbird, which put him in shouting distance of the yellow jersey. He then won the overall with 9 seconds over his closest competitor on the final stage, by placing second on the time trial. After years as a professional cyclist, Louder was able to claim his first NRC stage race win in Utah in front of family and friends.
“It was a really big one for me, it was important for the progression and it was important for me because I had so close to previous editions of the race and I really had something to prove to myself and also to the race that I had in me, I knew I did but I needed to prove it.”
Not only was the win in itself important, it also build up his confidence for other races.
“Moving forwards it gave me a lot of confidence, confirming to me that I had in me that I had in me to be a GC winner and a stage winner and that is what kind of led up to getting results in California, the GC wasn’t there but getting into breaks and having the confidence to go for that and that in turn led to the win at Redlands.”
A closer look at the stages. “It’s a lot harder this year.” Organizers modified the course this year to include a flat prologue, the return of Mt Nebo as the second mountain-top finish and moved the time trial to stage 3 instead of the final stage. In the final tally, the 6-day, 5-stage+prologue race, billed as ‘America’s Toughest Stage Race’, delivers 325-mile (523 km) of racing with 30,000 feet (9,144 m) of climbing and it all starts next Tuesday August 18.
“Everyday is pretty crucial this year, there are not a lot of easy rides, the only real day that is not going to have an effect on GC is the crit, so the first 5 days, everyday you have to be on your game. Its definitely going to be intense every day.”
Tuesday late afternoon, the Tour of Utah starts with the 4.5 km out-and-back prologue in Salt Lake City. “It’s going to be tricky, it’s a question of who wants to take control. Technically a prologue is nice because it sets up the hierarchy in the peloton but the way that this race is such a climbers race, if a TT specialist wins it’s kind of doubtful that his game would extend.”
But that doesn’t mean that he won’t go all out on the opening stage.
“I’m not going to sandbag it that’s for sure but it would be kind of ironic if that was the first time trial I’d ever won because I’ve never actually won a time trial so I think I can go all out and feel pretty confident that I won’t win the stage.” Louder then added with a laugh “Bookwalter on the other hand, we might have to hold him back.”
Louder continued to say that the team would certainly “honor the jersey” if they did win it in the prologue but the key is obviously to have the jersey the last day.
The climbing starts on the 137 km (85 mi) stage 1 from Ogden to Salt Lake City with two major climbs – a modified version of a stage from last year. The original first climb which last year “blew the race apart” was removed, making the stage a “little bit more of a classic mountain stage race.”
After some odd 30 kilometers, the route ascends a steep, winding two-lane road to Snowbasin Ski resort – “a true climb with a small descent in the middle.” After the climb, the stage picks up the same route as last year to go over Big Mountain again, a climb of 2,000 feet in just over six miles. Then it’s a mad dash to the finish.
“It’s a hard day, there’s a lot of resistance, after the descent off of Snow Basin, it’s basically drag uphill all the way to the bottom of the climb and then the climb and a pretty difficult descent, pedaling-wise it’s not a coaster descent all the way to the line, it’s a hard day. Especially considering it’s not a mountain top finish, it’s a hard day.”
Last year a small break made it to the finish line, but Louder thinks that the fact that “everyone knows the race a little better” will change the outcome. “There’s a lot to be said about knowing a climb, my prediction is I think it will be a larger group at the line, probably a bunch sprint, maybe an attacking move but not like last year.”
The second stage, starting at Thanksgiving Point, brings the return of Mt Nebo which was first climbed in the 2006 edition. “That was the day that I got the jersey and Scott Moninger won the stage and that was ones and twos, that’s a 30km climb, it’s serious.”
The first 95 kilometers are flat and go through “full on desert” with exposed and straight roads. “It looks simple on paper and it could be simple but if the winds were just right, it could be hard just to get to the climb.”
The stage culminates with the long climb up Mt Nebo taking the riders 4,000 feet above the low point of the course, which Louder compared to “a climb with a road race at the end.” After the first half or so, “it plateaus out, you’re still doing a lot of climbing but there’s a lot of little descents, false summits.”
Prior to this week’s camp, Louder had only ridden the climb twice but planned to recon the route with his teammates.
The third stage, on Friday August 21, is the 14.5 km (9.2 mi) individual time trial at the Miller Motorsports Park. The course meanders through the Park with some narrower sections and tight turns, some interesting out and backs and the wide banked turns on the track itself.
“It’s a pretty complicated course, it’s definitely going to be one that’s going to be beneficial to the riders that can ride it and get to know it well.”
Louder prefers a more technical course to break things up and get him out of his position. “I actually like that because I lose concentration when I go straight for too long.” he added with a laugh.
Mastering a technical course shows a more complete rider that can handle his bike. “To me a really good time trialist should be technical as well which is definitely not the norm in North America but if you look at the time trials in Europe, there is usually a pretty technical aspect to it and I think that that really is a more telling event, not only do you have to put down a lot of power and be aerodynamic but also you have to negotiate a course.”
The Queen Stage, the 155 km (96 mi) stage 4 from Park City to Snowbird, is Louder country and beautiful country.
“I spent a lot of time up here before I was a cyclist, there’s a lot of history, my dad talks about racing the Snowbird Hillclimb. To me it’s kind of the most storied climb in this area, I have a lot of history with this canyon, to me it’s definitely a beautiful thing to get to race it as well especially after Alpine Loop and getting the see the terrain that we get to see. But it’s hard, it’s a cherry on top.”
Before hitting the final climb, the stage first goes up the difficult Alpine Loop which although is a long way from the finish will test the pretenders to the throne.
“The beauty of that race is that it requires a lot of endurance, you have to have a lot of stamina, although typically Alpine Loop isn’t going to separate the contenders, it’s definitely tires the winner out of who gets second, it makes a difference, that’s what cool about that climb, it’s long and it’s hard, it’s amazing, it’s a pleasure to race on because it’s so beautiful.”
The riders will then plunge down a twisty, narrow highway back into and through suburbia, to go over a “small” bump over Traverse Ridge before they have to tackle the deciding 8-12 percent climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Creekside Center at the Snowbird Ski & Summer resort.
“The first two thirds of that climb is extremely relentless, there’s really no, it doesn’t really ever let up and the road is pretty straight, you can see a long way a lot of the time. It has a lot of Ventoux in it, it reminds me of that, the sort of climb that doesn’t seem to let up or ever give you a break, it’s as much a mental battle as a physical one and it’s a great finale.”
The race concludes with the 90-minute criterium in Salt Lake City, a chance for spectators to see all the riders up close and personal. At that point, the race for the overall should be completed barring any mishaps.
Looking over all the stages, Louder states that the decisive stage is definitely Snowbird. “I don’t think anyone can take Mt Nebo for granted at all, I think it will be down to a very select few by then. I think because the time trial is flat and even though it’s technical, if anyone is on their game enough to win this race, there’s going to be good enough for the time trial and so really it’s just going to be who can separate themselves up to Snowbird.”
The winner should be a good climber that can time trial. Louder laughed and said “How about an all rounder that can do a little bit of both?” when asked if he would describe himself at such a rider.
After winning Redlands, Louder raced in both the USA and in Europe, including one of my favorite races, le Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and I could not resist asking about his experience.
“That was amazing, an eye opener which is why I would say I’m not a climber.” laughed Louder. “It’s amazing, I thought of myself as a climber, and around here I am but you go to that race and you kill yourself for 75th place and it really shows the depth in Europe.”
It was his first time racing in the French Alps. “It was really a treat, it was amazing and but it’s funny, there’s a lot of this area that reminds me of that. Even though I was really suffering and professionally not enjoying myself, inside I was trying to remind myself that this is what I wanted to do when I was a kid watching the Tour, this is what we all dream of, racing over big climbs. And in that way, it was really an honor to get to do the Dauphiné.”
Following a break after racing in le Dauphine, Louder worked on building his form up for the final three big races of the season, the Tour of Utah, US Pro National Championships and the Tour of Missouri.
First goal, win in Utah. “I personally have a lot of ambitions to do that, I don’t really feel a lot of outside pressure it’s kind of up to me, it is what it is, you can always prepare as well as you can and be as good as you can be, the race will dictate how the race will end. The pressure is all coming from myself, it’s important for the team to win but I also feel like it’s not of me completely, I have a really strong team, its not like I’m the only guy that can win for the team and that’s nice.”
But Louder was also love to win the US Pro Road title, he came very close last year. “I think it’s definitely within my grasp. National Champion, there’s only one every year, that’s huge. Really that would be the dream to win the National Championship, everything else would be gravy.”