“We’ve always talked about the Queen stage but the last day is going to be the King stage. It’s that much harder.” Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare) said of stage 6 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
This is it. The stage that everyone’s been talking about and that scares many. And there’s a good reason for that, the final climb, Empire Pass rises 3,000 vertical feet (914 m) in 6 miles (10 km), with an average 9 percent grade and, three switchbacks of 22 & 23 percent grade. The final climb is even more brutal as it comes at the end of five very hard days of racing in the heat and altitude.
“The final climb of the last day is something else, that’s beyond anything else in the race. It’s a brute.” Louder said with a laugh, “It’s probably one of the five hardest climbs in the world. From my experience and what I’ve seen out there, as far as the severity and altitude, the quality of the road, I think it’s right up there with those climbs that people like to talk about in Europe.”
Utah-native and Salt Lake city resident, Louder has not only raced in most of the editions of the Tour of Utah – including the overall win in 2008 – but he’s also spent many hours training on many of the same roads that the peloton will face this year. Louder shared with podiuminisight on each stage of this year’s edition.
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Starting and finishing in Park City, the 76-mile (123 km) loop covers terrain the Tour has never visited, including the scenic and private Wolf Creek Ranch, a 2.15-mile climb through pristine stands of aspen and beaver ponds that tops out at 22 percent. Crossing the Heber Valley, it briefly re-visits Heber City and Midway before winding its way to the base of Empire Pass. This climb that will set the bar for pure heinousness in length and pitch. It’s all down hill from there, with a blistering alpine descent of Royal Street in the Snow Park area of Deer Valley, finishing in front of the Kimball Arts Center on lower Main Street, and the final Tour of Utah podium.
“We rode it the other day and there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve never ridden. It’s kind of fun for me to go out to Wolf Creek, it’s foreign territory to me, the climb there is equally as steep as the one up Empire Pass just shorter. It’s only two miles but it’s got pitches that are 15 percent.”
At the top of the first climb is a big plateau.”If the race blows up there there’s not a lot of chance to come back before the final climb. It’s a loop but it’s not a big loop, it’s only 120 km. It’s going to take a long time but that’s just because there’s so much climbing. Two hard steep climbs pretty close together and not a lot of flat easy in the middle makes the day pretty tight I think.”
“I think that there are going to be people that struggle to make it up over the first climb with the group. Then it’s just a matter of how motivated the challengers are. If people still feel that they have the legs it’s definitely a launchpad and it depends how close everybody is and what’s at stake. I don’t know if the race will be down to the wire but it will definitely be a dramatic day.”
After a descent off the plateau, less than 10 miles before the ascent up Empire Pass. “It’s steeper that anything that we have here. It’s a new climb, it was only paved two years ago. No one has really done much riding on it honestly because it was dirt forever and too hard to ride. It’s a beautiful climb, it’s really steep at the bottom and then it lets up a little bit towards the top but by then you’re high enough at that point that you can’t breathe anyway.” Louder laughs. “It’s a hard climb.”
After cresting, it’s a fast eight miles (12 km) downhill to the finish line. “It’s just really steep, so the corners come on you quicker than you expect because of the speed of the descent. That’s the top part, there are a couple of switchbacks and some fast off-camber straightaways that seem scary because you’re going fast. Nothing too tricky, it’s just more the speed.”
The descent off Alpine Loop in stage 5 is harder and more technical but at the same time, Alpine Loop comes earlier in the stage so there’s less at stake.
Descending skills could come into play as to the size of the small group coming to the finish. “If you’re trying to come back or stay away from somebody chasing you that’s when it gets a bit hairy. It’s the type of day where a better descender can come back over a better climber, it’s cool that way.”
Louder concluded, “If there’s someone that can stay within reach of the best climber, I think that there’s a potential for a very small sprint but maybe instead of being two guy sprinting each other, maybe four or five because of the descent. Everybody is going to be split up on the climb.”
Stage 6 details:
- Length: 76.73 mi. (123.5 km)
- Elevation: 6,844 ft. (2,086 meters) of climbing
- Start time: 12;10 pm MT
- Estimated Finish: 3:18 pm to 4:15 pm MT
- Neutral section: 5 miles (8.1 km)
- Time bonus at finish of 10, 6 & 4 seconds
- 1 XO Communications sprint lines for seconds (3, 2, 1 sec) and points
- in Kamas at mile 20 (km 32)
- 2 Ski Utah KOMs
- Cat 2 in Wolf Creek Ranch at mile 36 (km 58)
- Cat HC on Empire Pass at mile 68 (km 110)