Their faces were haggard on Sunday morning when the riders made their way to their team cars and buses on Sunday at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. After all, they had five days of hard racing in their legs, with heat and altitude making it even tougher. The Queen stage on Saturday threw at them 10,000 ft. (3,048 meters) of climbing over 101 miles (162 km).
And they were not done yet, the sixth and final stage would rival anything they’d faced so far. Though relatively short at ‘only’ 76.73 miles (123.5 km) in length, the Park City loop included the climb up Empire Pass, a brute of a 10-km climb with three switchbacks of 22 to 23 percent grade.
Billed as ‘America’s Toughest Race’, the 2012 edition delivered. It was much tougher than previous years, with more kilometers and more climbing, over 545 miles (877 kms) of racing and 38,500 feet (11, 734 meter) of elevation gain in six stages.
“There’s been a lot of talk about it being too tough and this and that but bike racing is hard, it’s not meant to be easy.” Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare) said prior to the race.
Every year the race has gotten tougher, but was the 2012 edition too tough? Did the race cross the line?
We asked that question to three riders, each representing a different UCI team level, Levi Leipheimer of the ProTour team Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Rory Sutherland of the Pro Continental UnitedHealthcare team and Ben Jacques-Maynes of the Continental Bissell team.
The answer was a very clear no.
For stage 6 winner and 2011 overall champion Lepheimer, the American UCI races such as the Tour of Utah are essential to help develop riders.
“When I was on a domestic team there was a lot of criteriums – and that’s not my strong suit – there were a lot of criteriums and short races.” he said. “I would have loved to have a Tour of Utah or Amgen Tour of California, USA Pro Challenge, I think these stage races would prepare a rider for that step (of racing in Europe). And that way there’s not such a big gap between racing in the US and racing in Europe. I think that everybody will get stronger from it. In my opinion, it’s not crossing the line.”
Jacques-Maynes agreed with Leipehimer. On the hunt for KOM points, he spent three stages in the breakaway, battling it out until the final day where he came out victorious and took home the final KOM jersey.
“I added up the last three days, there were 500 k[ilometers] and it sounds big and daunting with the amount of climbing that we have here but it makes for a real race. If it’s shorter it’s really not as conclusive a race so I think that you have a true winner and the people that are with me are deserving of their places.”
Jacques-Maynes continued, “The Tour de Georgia was the first really big race we had where the Euros would come over and then Amgen Tour of California started. I felt that I blossomed in that scenario, that really helps me grow as a rider and also go back to the domestic racing and really shine.”
“I thought it was actually pretty good.” Sutherland said. The Australian won the first stage and was also awarded the most aggressive jersey on the final stage for a solo attack on Empire Pass after making the early break.
“Today was a really good combination of what we had out there on the road. It’s not like we’re doing five passes on the road, five mountain tops. Today at the end, it’s kind of like the old Brasstown Bald, or Mt Baldy, it’s a cool experience, it brings out the fans.”
Fans packed the top of the climbs and the start and finish in Park City.
Sutherland concluded, “It brings out people so I don’t know how you can say that it’s not going to be enjoyable in some sense but it’s obviously a very painful experience. At the same time I don’t think that there’s a rider out there that didn’t enjoy part of the climb and seeing people of Utah come out and support them.”
The brutally beautiful or beautifully brutal Tour of Utah will be back next year.