After winning the overall the BMC Cascade Cycling Classic, the RealCyclist.com team made its way to Utah to get ready for ‘America’s Toughest Race’, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The squad is headquartered in Park City, home of Evan Hyde.
“Today, I rode with the team and we climbed 6 or 7,000 feet in four hours, hitting every climb, for me, pretty much race pace.” Hyde said on Thursday afternoon. “Tons and tons of climbing and miles and breaking up the courses. Knowing the courses is a big advantage but mostly we’re trying to acclimate and get our climbing legs, maybe drop a little weight.”
It’s not just the depth of the field, and the tough stages that challenge riders in Utah. There’s the altitude and its impact on recovery.
“They can come here and race hard the first day or two but recovery is super hard here. Last year we stayed in Park City which is tough. Ideally you stay in Salt Lake which we’re going to do this year.” said Hyde, who has raced in the two previous editions.
Park City lies mostly above 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above sea level while Salt Lake City is at an altitude of about 4,000 feet (1,200 m).
Hyde continued, “It’s like a different world recovering in Salt Lake versus Park City. Recovery and being able to be fresh each day is, I think, the hardest thing. Altitude can really be hard on back to back days.”
After living for three years in Park City, Alaska-born Hyde is now used to the altitude.
“I’ve been sea level for my first 23 years of life.” he laughed. “We rode up to 10,000 feet today and one of our guys from Atlanta was suffering but I think he’ll get used to it by the time the race rolls around.”
On the UCI calendar for the first time, the six-day stage race went through some changes this year, starting with a new prologue in Park City, that the 26-year old pre-rode a couple of weeks ago for the unveiling of the route.
“It’s going to be really hard,” Hyde said about the 5-km (3-mile) opener on a service road in Utah Olympic Park, “because the winning times are going to be 4:30 to 4:40 but it’s at 7,000 feet. That kind of effort at that altitude is pretty brutal.”
Time trial bikes will not really bring any advantage on the steep pitches and switchbacks. “The start is five seconds of downhill but you’re going to be standing up sprinting and then you’re immediately into the hill. Maybe clip-ons but once you hit the climb it’s uphill the whole race. And light bikes.”
Time gaps should be small going into stage 1, the longest stage of the week at 187 km (116 mi). A stage, with 8,250 feet of altitude gain, which could cause many surprises.
“To me that’s going to be the hardest course because the climb is around 3 miles long and it averages 10%. Right out of the gate, as soon as you leave Ogden, you’re on that thing.” Hyde said about the three-lap road race which includes the difficult climb up North Ogden Pass Road.
“They used to have that climb in the race when it was first NRC. That was the first stage and within 10 minutes of the start of the stage race you had people just shattered all over the road. If people don’t get up it the first time, they’re going to be in trouble right from the start. That’s going to be brutal.”
The 62-km (38.5-mile) loop continues with a clockwise tour of the lovely Eden Valley and Pineview Reservoir to Ogden.
Stage 1 could be decisive. “Obviously the last stage is really hard, but stage 1 is so early in the race, I think it’s going to be pretty tough.”
The GC contenders could get a breather on the next stage, the 151 km (100 mi) unless the wind comes into play. Gone is the long finishing climb up Mt Nebo from previous years. Starting in Lehi, the peloton will roll south on relatively flat terrain, skirting the western shore of Utah Lake to finish in Provo – delivering ‘only’ 2,820 feet of vertical gain.
“They got rid of Mt Nebo which is nice for those of us that don’t like the hour and half finishing climb.” Hyde laughed. “But the thing about going around the Lake is that it can be really windy, it can be tough from that point of view but overall that’s a flat stage and it should be a quiet stage for GC.”
Friday evening brings the 14.5 km (9.0 mi) time trial at Miller Motorsports Park, a course that Hyde called fun.
“You go out on the outside of the track first and it’s a little more technical but once you get on that race car track, it’s sweet.” he said. “It’s pretty cool, the turns are fun, they’re all pedaling turns once you get on the track.”
Fun but still painful. “Because the whole time you can see the finish line out of the corner of your eye so it’s pretty tough”
Last year’s fastest time of 16:46.90 was set by BMC’s Taylor Phinney, then riding with Trek-Livestrong.
Since criteriums are not allowed in UCI races, the organizer added a new circuit race on Saturday, and not an easy one at that. Riders will be challenged by turns, tricky descent and the sharp climb up East Capitol Street for 11 times for a total of 132 km (82.0 mi).
Hyde had not ridden the stage yet. “Short, steep climbs and then I hear the descent is really technical and somewhat dangerous, with turns and traffic furniture and bad pavement.”
“That is actually another stage, along with stage 1, that we’re really looking at that is potentially kind of a decisive stage. You do 7,000 feet of climbing in 11 laps, all short over-threshold climbs.”
Last year’ stage 4, the Park City criterium was “awful”, but Hyde thinks that aggression will be toned down in 2010 with a longer circuit race.
“I think it won’t be as chaotic from the gun maybe but who knows, it could be. But, I think, by that time the GC picture will be pretty clear so maybe an early break will go and it will be more controlled. I don’t know but it’s not an easy stage that’s for sure. It’s a really hard one but it is lower altitude, that was the problem with the Park City crit, the high altitude.”
The race concludes with its signature Queen Stage, the 161 km (100 mi) from Park City to Snowbird, with a total of 3 322.3 meters (10,900 feet) of elevation gain
“The first two climbs out of Park City are highway climbs so they’re no super steep, but they can be really windy and the break is trying to go on those so that’s really short and really hard.” Hyde explained.
“About an hour and a half to two hours in, you hit the first huge climb and that’s the Sundance climb. The first three or four miles are really vicious and then after that, it levels off but the damage has been done by that point. You go up to 8,000 feet in a 40-minute climb I think and then you have this wild descent that’s just crazy. You go from 8,000 to 4,000 feet pretty quick.”
The Alpine Loop, which takes the riders by Robert Redford’s Sundance resort, ascends through narrow stands of aspen and fir trees, crests a saddle just under the summit of Mt. Timpanogos, and plunges down a twisty, narrow highway back into and through suburbia. The riders go over a “small” bump of 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.
“Then you have a pretty nasty kicker in Draper, it’s really hot down there, it’s like a 4-km climb but it really stings the legs. And then there are some little lumps that are really painful on the way up to Little Cottonwood and then that climb averages 8% for seven miles or something like that up to the finish, and that’s pretty brutal. I’ve never been at the front at the point so I don’t really know what happens there.” Hyde laughed.
Though the final day is definitely the toughest, the first road stage could have a major impact on the race. “For me and a couple of my teammates that are here to help Paco and Cesar, we’re probably the most worried about stage 1.” he said, especially as the tough stage is so early in the race. “Obviously the last stage I think is the hardest but at that point, you’re made it through most of the week, so really I think stage 1 is going to be surprising at how hard it is.”
As far as defending a leader’s jersey once again, as they have done since the beginning of the year for their captain Francisco Mancebo, Hyde replied with a laugh, “The helpers are kind of hoping that Paco is second after the prologue instead of first because we don’t want to have to control that first stage.”
The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will be held on August 9-14, 2011.