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USA Pro Challenge team presentation a calm before the Colorado storm

Jens Voigt supporters will line the Colorado roads to celebrate the German's last race of his career

Jens Voigt supporters will line the Colorado roads to celebrate the German’s last race of his career

There’s something about a red carpet that makes people feel special. Or maybe it was the five year-old boy who wore a Garmin-Sharp jersey that fell to his knees and waylaid them with a sharpie held high.

Either way, the riders on the 16 teams in this year’s USA Pro Challenge smiled as they processed along the red carpet through a cheering crowd brandishing cameras at the team presentation. Children and adults held up their palms and guys from superstar level to neo-pro greeted them with low and high-fives.

For that one fine Saturday evening in Snowmass, Colorado while the sun dipped behind the ski slopes, the athletes could suspend all thoughts of 550 miles of Rocky Mountain suffering on the horizon and soak up the love.

The seven-day Colorado race begins today with the Stage 1 circuit around Aspen. It continues to a sharp uphill conclusion at Crested Butte, offers a new summit finish on Monarch Mountain in Stage 3, and then visits Breckenridge followed by the red rock of Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. Saturday’s uphill time trial in Vail, Colorado will help determine who stands on the podium in Denver on Sunday, August 24.

It’s Jens Voigt’s final race of his career – or so the Trek Factory Racing man says, which means lots of attacks will be in order as well as a special celebration on the final day.

The BMC Racing team will have its hands full trying to defend Tejay van Garderen‘s 2013 overall win against the likes of Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), Rafał Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Leopold Konig (Team NetApp-Endura), and others.

Follow along with the TourTracker or live television coverage or a live feed on cyclingfans.com where there’s a link to the start list.

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Track to triumph at Tour of Utah Women’s Edition

Inaugural Tour of Utah Women's Edition podium (l-r) Mandy Heintz 2nd, Coryn Rivera 1st, Meredith Miller 3rd

Inaugural Tour of Utah Women’s Edition podium (l-r) Mandy Heintz 2nd, Coryn Rivera 1st, Meredith Miller 3rd

The story is timeless. It’s about payback for hard efforts that fall short through no fault of our own. But mostly, it’s about the things we do for love. Both took center stage at the first Tour of Utah Women’s Edition p/b Play Hard Give Back on August 6th.

Over sixty motivated women took the track at Miller Motorsports Park for 75 minutes of sweeping turns linked by straightaways while the men raced Stage 3 of the seven-day Utah tour.

Women's peloton in the vast Miller Motorsports Park

Women’s peloton in the vast Miller Motorsports Park

Racing around and around on a mostly flat, wind-swept expanse of track set in chalky-white earth might seem less appealing than tracing historic Pony Express byways and the edge of Utah Lake like the men. But Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare) didn’t see it that way.

“It’s so fun! I’m really excited….It’s two miles of jwu, jwu (the sound Powers makes while simulating flowing S-shapes with her arms, fingers twined together),” she said in Cedar City two days earlier. “It’s still flat but lots of corners so it will be fun.”

And even less boring for the multi-national champion who, as was planned two days prior at the Cedar City Grand Prix, would take the last pull to lead-out teammate Coryn Rivera for the win.

In Cedar City a damaged wheel ended Rivera’s race early. With her teammate missing in action in the last lap of the criterium, Powers took charge and claimed victory.

Two days later at the Tour of Utah Women’s Edition race Powers and her UnitedHealthcare teammates chased down a solo rider, Anne Perry (DNA Cycling p/b K4), and delivered Rivera to the line. The young woman’s win at the motorsports park radiated redemption after the Cedar City mishap. “It’s good to actually deliver for my team and do well, have a nice result,” she said.

Meredith Miller: I was like, OK, I’m going to be the representative for the team today and do the best I can and was lucky to pull it off for the last podium spot.

Meredith Miller: “I was like, OK, I’m going to be the representative for the team today and do the best I can and was lucky to pull it off for the last podium spot.”

To her right on the finish line Mandy Heintz (Guru Cycles p/b Haute Wheels Racing) from Houston, Texas got second. Her result was hard-fought even before the race had begun. Heintz, 33 years-old, started the Guru team this year and has raced in the pro women’s peloton for just that amount of time.

“Words can’t describe the feeling,” Heintz said about her team’s result. “It’s been such a long year, a very rewarding year. A lot of hard work. A lot of sacrifice. That’s what people don’t understand, is how much sacrifice goes into, not only racing at a pro level, but all of us have a life and some things in our life get put on the back burner from jobs to families, everything.

“It’s a lot of bittersweet feelings. It’s good. My girls sacrificed themselves, their jobs, their families, their spouses, their partners, to be here, and I couldn’t have done it without them.” Five women with an average age of about 35 race for the team. Laura Van Gilder guest rode for the team in Utah, finishing fourth after Pepper Palace’s Meredith Miller in third. Guru is a bike manufacturer out of Montreal, Canada and supplies the women with custom-fit to-a-person road and time trial bikes.

For Heintz personally, assembling the team and preparing to race at a high level has come with a cost to relationships, she said. She has decided to reduce time at work as a physical therapist to concentrate on improving herself as a competitive cyclist.

Her podium result just behind the best young rider at La Course by Le Tour de France came as a shock but also a confirmation of the team’s collective efforts over the past months.

“In our first year, our first race was Redlands,” she said. “We were happy to be there. And now we’re not just happy to be here; we belong here.”

Breanne Nalder off the front

Breanne Nalder off the front

Any woman trying to establish a breakaway at the motorsports park faced an especially difficult task. According to Mike Newbury, a coach/soigneur working for the Vanderkitten team, staying away on the flat course in the wind required “big power” against a field containing women who were all racing at the same level.

Breanne Nalder (DNA Cycling p/b K4) from Salt Lake City found that energy and for it won the most aggressive rider prize. When asked about the power she expended to separate from the group, Nalder acknowledged the effort as significant.

“But I loved it, every moment of it,” she continued. “That’s why I love to bike race: you put yourself in the hurt locker and hope that it pulls through for the team.”

Coryn Rivera wins Tour of Utah Women's Edition. "[Winning] is special because we’re here for the first women’s edition race."

Coryn Rivera wins Tour of Utah Women’s Edition. “[Winning] is special because we’re here for the first women’s edition race.”

Gallery (to come)

A confident Tom Danielson wins a bigger and tougher Tour of Utah

Alex Howes and Phil Gaimon watch Tom Danielson receive the 2014 Tour of Utah yellow jersey on Powder Mountain

Alex Howes and Phil Gaimon watch Tom Danielson receive the 2014 Tour of Utah yellow jersey on Powder Mountain

The 2014 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah concluded with Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson winning the overall for the second consecutive year.

The race unfolded over seven days instead of last year’s six and with a 32 percent increase in elevation gain for a total of 57,000 feet (17,374 meters). The stage ending on Powder Mountain for the first time threw more steep terrain at the riders and provided a thrilling uphill finish for spectators.

Danielson said the race in total was “way harder” than last year’s ninth edition, citing the entire climb past Brian Head resort, Powder Mountain, crosswinds that stirred up nerves and siphoned off energy, and 2,000 extra feet (610 meters) of climbing on the way to the Snowbird finish.

“But the field was arguably stronger as well and that made much more aggressive racing. You saw all those big groups, lots of chasing,” the Garmin-Sharp rider added.

“I don’t think we ever really stopped and chatted very much this year. Maybe today just was the first time; we kind stopped for a pee and it was like, whoa guys, that was crazy. Did we just go 45 kilometers in 45 minutes, wait, is that 60. Whoa. So yea, it’s been pretty fast.”

Tom Danielson greets Park City crowd

Tom Danielson greets Park City crowd

But the primary difference between the two years resided in the man who won.

This year Danielson appeared serenely confident. Missing was the lingering self-doubt he referred to last August that had held him back from taking charge prior to the 2013 race. That confidence translated into calm decisiveness under pressure, a sense of control that likely raised the confidence and dedication of his young team in Utah.

For example, on Saturday Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) drove a breakaway that at one point gained enough minutes to place Evans in the virtual lead. When asked if he was at any time concerned about the break threatening his lead, Danielson quickly replied, “No.”

He tried not to focus on anything that could upset his bid to win a second time. Instead, he said, he focused on what he could control and on executing the team’s plan each day which included specific tasks for each teammate.

“Really that was the key strategy of the week, was making tasks and accomplishing them and not worrying about what other people are doing.”

In fact the only time the overall leader appeared concerned was Sunday morning on the last day of the event. Having missed the rider entrance to the start line in Park City, he couldn’t immediately find a way through the massive Park City crowds and onto the course.

Another change from year to year in the Tour of Utah is the crowd size. Every year it gets bigger.

The 2015 Utah tour is scheduled for August 3 to 9 and the event’s president, Larry H. Miller, indicated the race could visit parts of Utah it hasn’t previously seen.

2014 Tour of Utah overall podium (l-r): Chris Horner 2nd, Tom Danielson 1st, Winner Anacona Gomez 3rd

2014 Tour of Utah overall podium (l-r): Chris Horner 2nd, Tom Danielson 1st, Winner Anacona Gomez 3rd

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Lessons from Utah: how to succeed in bike racing, the Euser-Reijnen way

Lucas Euser 8th at Snowbird after the entire Stage 6 in a breakaway

Lucas Euser 8th at Snowbird after racing the entire Stage 6 in a breakaway

Kiel Reijnen leaned over his bike just past the finish line at Snowbird, absolutely spent from an effort that had actually concluded 37 kilometers before he arrived at the end of Stage 6.

Since day one of the 2014 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Reijnen and UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling teammate Lucas Euser had been looking for an opportunity to race in the breakaway together. It arrived on Stage 6 which offered a hilly course designed for Euser’s climbing skills.

“When we start uphill like that it’s really good for me. I don’t do well when it’s one punchy climb at the finish like Powder Mountain; that’s a little bit tough for me,” Euser said at the post-race press conference. “But when it’s hard all day, climb after climb after climb, it’s usually when I do the best.”

Kiel Reijnen chasing Jens after the opening  Utah Stage 6 kilometers

Kiel Reijnen chasing Jens Voigt on Little Big Mt. after the start of Stage 6

After the break of 15 had established almost from kilometer zero with both men a part of it, Reijnen rode hard at the front with several BMC Racing Team riders. His job: drive the break at an insane pace to give Euser a chance to contest the win at Snowbird from a small group.

“He [Reijnen] came back to me a couple of times and said, ‘Man I am so done. My finish line is the bottom of Guardsman. You go from there,’” Euser recounted. “I was like, that’s fine.”

Euser then attacked Guardsman Pass and the remaining 37 kilometers to the finish line with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Sportswear), and Trek Factory Racing’s Riccardo Zoidl. Evans descended like a rocket and Euser followed close behind, placing his hand on the BMC rider’s back occasionally to signal his presence.

The previous day on Stage 5 Euser and the UnitedHealthcare team whipped up the speed at the front of the field to place Reijnen in a good position to sprint for the win. Stage 5 represented the last chance for a sprint finish and Reijnen placed third. He missed out on Stage 3 and Stage 1 in Cedar City where the rise to the line seemed made for him. Minutes after the race ended in Cedar City he pedaled slowly down a street near the arrival arch, disappointment weighting his shoulders.

With each day comes new opportunity and on Stage 6 the two men seized it on arguably the toughest of seven days of competition in Utah. For his effort that day Euser would won the most aggressive rider jersey.

Lucas Euser in the most aggressive rider jersey

Lucas Euser in the most aggressive rider jersey

The lead group of four held off the GC chasers until the very end. With about two kilometers remaining Euser tried to go solo.

Evans, Rosskopf, and Zoidl caught him and the energy Euser spent took its toll; he couldn’t respond to the threesome’s subsequent attacks.

“I thought I could get a jump on [Evans] and not have to go to the line with four guys. These are guys that I know can out-sprint me. It was kind of all or nothing.”

Euser came home eighth. It was the fourth consecutive year he’d placed high on the stage. In the parking lot after the finish he rolled slowly on his bike under the hand of his soigneur as he processed the last couple of kilometers. He pounded the handlebars.

“I thought I could catch them off guard and it was a bad idea,” he said then, because he got dropped.

But later teammate Reijnen indicated his satisfaction with their overall efforts.

And in the end, Euser found similar satisfaction in a day he shared with a man that lives within five blocks of his home in Boulder and with whom he’d trained during the three weeks prior to the Tour of Utah.

“The dude was awesome. That guy was unbelievable,” Euser said of Reijnen while he ate a post-race recovery meal of rice, eggs, and parmesan cheese.

“You saw three BMC guys and my teammate Kiel put their finish line at the bottom of Guardsman Pass,” he said. “There’s nothing more selfless than that.”

And ultimately Euser remembered his part of the partnership. “I said yesterday I’m going to go from the gun and I’m not going to stop until I cross the line. I think I did that,” he said.

“You always go back and think: I could change this, I could change that. But ultimately I had a lot of fun out there. I had a smile on my face all day.”

Kiel Reijnen after Stage 6 finish at Snowbird

Kiel Reijnen after Stage 6 finish at Snowbird

A win for Alison Powers and fulfillment for local riders at the Cedar City Grand Prix

Alison Powers wins the 2014 Cedar City Grand Prix ahead of Samantha Schneider and Tina Pic

Alison Powers wins the 2014 Cedar City Grand Prix ahead of Samantha Schneider and Tina Pic

Today Cedar City, a Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah host locale, put on its first USA Cycling sanctioned women’s race, the Cedar City Grand Prix, and the world watched a fine selection of elite women cyclists fight for the win over sixty minutes of heated racing in southern Utah. Triple national champion Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team), long-time icons of the sport Tina Pic (DNA Cycling p/b K4) and Laura Van Gilder (Guru), and other national standouts lined up on Main Street alongside Utah’s best elite riders.

A new women’s event means so much to all of the athletes, but this one held special value for the local ladies who usually must travel a good distance to compete with the country’s best. Ogden’s Jennifer Vollmer (Livewell p/b Bountiful Bicycles), for example, normally wouldn’t race with a broken wrist. But she did today, even though she probably knew she would have to pull out before the finish.

Kaytie Scott and Jennifer Vollmer

Kaytie Scott and Jennifer Vollmer

“I did it because it’s the Tour of Utah, and it’s the inaugural [Cedar City Grand Prix] and I don’t know if I’ll ever get this chance again,” Vollmer said. “It’s pretty spectacular to be a part of it. So I had to get in and do it.

“It’s awfully exciting for women to have the chance to race at this level. A lot of us work full-time jobs, have kids, have to manage everything and to be able to come down and throw down and race hard with amazing people like Alison Powers and Coryn Rivera, it’s incredibly exciting.” Vollmer, mother of three, currently works as a newspaper editor for an Air Force base in Arizona. She had to pull out after 25 minutes.

Amy Charity tries to make a run for it in Cedar City

Amy Charity tries to make a run for it in Cedar City

Vollmer’s teammate Kaytie Scott is a respiratory therapist. She’s also from Ogden and made a move to get away early on in the race. So did Vanderkitten’s Amy Charity. Colavita-Fine Cooking, Jet Cycling, Guru, Pepper Palace, and other teams tried to send riders up the road, but the pack kept a tight rein on every breakaway attempt. Each rider who tried to slip away was quickly reabsorbed.

With about five turns around the criterium circuit remaining Pepper Palace set a tough pace at the front, lining out the field to work for their sprinter, Sarah Fader. Teammate Meredith Miller later described a hectic last few laps. “In the last two to three to go things started to get shuffled around and people started swarming. So then I found myself on the front coming in one to go and I was just drilling it as hard as I could up this finishing stretch just to keep it fast and lined out…It was tough because of the wind. It was a little harder to follow wheels than you would expect.”

Pepper Palace takes charge

Pepper Palace takes charge

UnitedHealthcare had arrived with their young sprint superstar Coryn Rivera who just earned the best young rider distinction at La Course by Le Tour de France with her sixth place result. The team had planned to make the day hers and found their way around to the front. But Rivera had disappeared and would finish minutes behind the winner, her teammate Powers.

“Going into one to go, someone ran into my rear wheel and took out three spokes,” Rivera said. “I was hoping to just ride it through the finish, but it just wouldn’t spin through my frame so that was the end of my race…Bad luck happens and it’s unfortunate, but luckily we have a strong team and we were able to pull off the win.”

Powers was positioned as the last rider for Rivera’s lead out. “Scotti [Wilborne] at just under one to go went full gas. Usually with Coryn you don’t ever have to look back and wonder if she’s on the wheel because you just trust that she’s there,” Powers said post-race. “We didn’t look back and then I took my turn for the lead out. I looked between my legs – you can see if there’s a wheel, and there wasn’t a wheel on my wheel.”

At that point Powers knew it was her game to win or lose.

UnitedHealthcare, most aggressive team at the Cedar City Grand Prix, Coryn Rivera on tippy-toes

UnitedHealthcare, most aggressive team at the Cedar City Grand Prix, Coryn Rivera on tippy-toes

“I wanted to win this race so badly, for the team. I don’t care who wins as long as it’s us. It was like, we can’t get beat. So this is it you have to go, you have to go. At one point I looked up and the finish line seemed forever away so I just stopped looking at it and just kept going until I crossed it with my wheel.”

Pic and Team TIBCO / To the Top’s Samantha Schneider had launched their sprints into the uphill finish and headwind as well, and at the line the three women finished within inches of each other, with Schneider second and Pic third.

The Cedar City Grand Prix also awarded sprint competition and most aggressive team prizes. Colavita-Fine Cooking’s Olivia Dillon won the sprint award. UnitedHealthcare came away with the team classification.

Cedar City’s race is one of two new women’s races this week. The Tour of Utah is launching a women’s edition on August 6 at Miller Motorsports Park.

Olivia Dillon won the sprint competition within the Cedar City Grand Prix

Olivia Dillon won the sprint competition within the Cedar City Grand Prix

“Races are stepping up. People are stepping up,” Powers said about the new events. “We wouldn’t have this race if it weren’t for Nicki [Wangsgard], and we wouldn’t have Wednesday’s race if it weren’t for Larry H. Miller and their organization putting on for the women. It’s awesome.”

Wangsgard called Powers months ago to ask what it would take to have the UnitedHealthcare team in the Cedar City race. Powers assured her they’d be there.

The Cedar City race organization ensured local riders would have a chance to ride too. It formed a composite team, Canyon Bicycles. While some on the composite team sat out the final laps, likely they’d agree with Odgen’s Scott who said, “It was an amazing experience. It feels like a good step in the right direction for women’s cycling.”

2014 Cedar City Grand Prix podium (l-r) Samantha Schneider, Alison Powers, Tina Pic

2014 Cedar City Grand Prix podium (l-r) Samantha Schneider, Alison Powers, Tina Pic

Get set for the 2014 Tour of Utah with highlights from 2013

Red rock desert. Mountains for escaping. A hilly city circuit. Last year’s Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah expanded the race’s traditional miles into the southern portion of the state then returned north, highlighting Utah’s stunning natural beauty as well as the rider’s efforts to tame its challenges.

These images from each 2013 stage presage what to expect during this year’s seven-day edition from August 4 – 10: more incredible backdrops and exciting racing where the climbers may well decide who will spray champagne or beer from the final podium in the race’s tenth year.

2013 Stage 1, Brian Head Resort to Cedar City

Greg Van Avermaet wins Utah's 2013 Stage 1 ahead of Michael Matthews and Ty Magner in Cedar City

Greg Van Avermaet wins Utah’s 2013 Stage 1 ahead of Michael Matthews and Ty Magner in Cedar City

This year’s Stage 1 will cover similar ground in a loop that starts and ends in Cedar City. There’s more climbing in 2014, but still a very good chance the field or a large pack will catch the breakaway by the time riders complete the three finishing circuits in town. The last 300 metres of so of this year’s finish is uphill.

2013 Stage 2, Panguitch to Torrey

Peloton in Red Canyon

Peloton in Red Canyon

Again in 2014 day two from Panguitch to Torrey traverses some of Utah’s signature scenery and national treasures: Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Dixie National Forest, and Capital Reef National Park. Last year’s stage winner, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) said it was like riding through a movie. Another sprint is expected on the same course this year with Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare), Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly), Luis Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman), and Rick Zabel (BMC) among those hungry for the prize.

 2013 Stage 3, Richfield to Payson

Lachlan Morton's solo push over Mt. Nebo earned him the Utah yellow jersey in 2013 and the world started to pay more attention to his "license plates"

Lachlan Morton’s solo push over Mt. Nebo earned him the Utah yellow jersey in 2013 and the world started to pay more attention to his “license plates”

The single climb up Mt. Nebo near the end of the 119 mile (192 kilometre) route decided the outcome of last year’s Stage 2. Lachlan Morton (Garmin-Sharp) broke away there and soloed to the finish in Payson. In 2014 the Lehi start pays homage to the Tour of Utah’s early days when riders departed from the Thanksgiving Point Museum and Gardens. The one KOM in Eureka takes place early so the final circuits in Miller Motorsports Park should deliver a big sprint finish if the wind doesn’t wreak havoc on the field at the track.

2013 Stage 4, Salt Lake City Circuit

Mancebo in the 2014 Salt Lake City circuit breakaway.  Craig Lewis earned the most aggressive rider's jersey and Michael Matthews won the stage.

Francisco Mancebo leads uphill in the 2014 Salt Lake City circuit breakaway. Craig Lewis earned the most aggressive rider’s jersey and Michael Matthews won the stage.

Will this year’s 128 riders miss the classic Salt Lake circuit with the repeated short but steep climb up to the state capitol? The non-climbers among them might not when they stand on the pedals during the uphill finish on Powder Mountain, this year’s new climb for Stage 4 that’s generating a lot of attention. During the last two-thirds of the six mile (10 kilometre) ascent the grade doesn’t dip below seven percent and it reaches 15 percent not once but several times. The 2014 Stage 4 begins in Ogden and offers alpine views and glimpses of Pineview Reservoir. Powder Mountain could well decide the final general classification.

2013 Stage 5, Snowbasin to Snowbird

Chris Horner slipped past Tom Danielson for the Snowbird win in 2013 and took the yellow jersey from Lachlan Morton.

Chris Horner slipped past Tom Danielson for the Snowbird win in 2013 and took the yellow jersey from Lachlan Morton.

The finish at the ski resort of Snowbird is one of the Tour of Utah’s signature finales. In the 2014 edition it appears on day six. Every year the event seeks to add something new and 2014 is no exception. Stage 5 will start out of state for the first time, in Evanston, Wyoming. Wind, the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, and Bald Mountain Pass at 10,759 feet (3,280 metres) elevation will spice up the stage before it ends in Kamas, Utah in a sprint unless a crafty breakaway can hold off the fast finishers.

2013 Stage 6, Park City to Park City

Final 2013 jerseys: Michael Matthews, Michael Torckler, Tom Danielson, Francisco Mancebo, Lachlan Morton (l-r)

Final 2013 Tour of Utah jersey winners: Michael Matthews, Michael Torckler, Tom Danielson, Francisco Mancebo, Lachlan Morton (l-r)

Empire Pass is a decisive climb in this loop which makes for a thrilling conclusion to the overall race. In the last two years the first man over Empire won the stage. In 2013 it was 5-Hour Energy’s Francisco Mancebo. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) came in third, enough seconds ahead of Horner to score the top prize of yellow. This loop will again be featured on the closing day of the race in 2014 which takes place on Stage 7. This year’s Stage 6 ends on Snowbird and the field contesting it includes several former winners: 2008’s victor Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare), Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes (2009), Drapac’s Jai Crawford (2010), and Chris Horner (Lampre Merida).

2013 Stage 7 was a gleam in Larry H. Miller’s eyes

At seven days long the 2014 Tour of Utah is now as long as the USA Pro Challenge. While it’s one day shorter than the Amgen Tour of California, it exceeds the May race’s mileage and climbing distance. In 2014 riders will cover 753 miles (1,212 kilometres) and climb 57,000 feet (17,374 metres). The climbers will likely rule again this year. The only question is who will spray the champagne (in 2013 it was beer bubbly).

Will Danielson repeat, Horner step up to the top, or others like Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) or Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) or Trek Factory Racing’s Matthew Busche or Matty Lloyd (Jelly Belly) claim first? Follow the race online with TourTracker to find out.

Final 2013 Tour of Utah overall podium: Chris Horner 3rd, Tom Danielson 1st, Janier Acevedo 2nd

Final 2013 Tour of Utah overall podium: Chris Horner 3rd, Tom Danielson 1st, Janier Acevedo 2nd

1,000 cyclists ride in the tracks of Bob Cook at the Mt. Evans Hill Climb named for him

Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb finish at over 14,000 feet elevation

Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb finish at over 14,000 feet elevation

[updated 7/31/2014]

In this day when bike races are more likely to be shortened or canceled than extended,* the Mt. Evans Hill Climb endures. Close to 1,000 Gran Fondo and competitive cyclists aiming for the state hill climb championship prize took on the 14,265 foot summit in the 49th edition last Saturday, July 26.

The event has been called the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb since 1981 in recognition of Bob Cook who died from cancer at age 23. Cook was an amateur cyclist who could tangle with the best professional uphill specialists; he won the ascent five times and made the 1980 US Olympic team.

Mara Abbott wins her third Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb

Mara Abbott wins her third Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb

Past winners of the men’s elite race include Alexi Grewal, Ned Overend, Jonathan Vaughters, Scott Moninger, Peter Stetina, Tom Danielson, and Todd Gogulski. Tammy Jacques-Grewal, Kimberly Bruckner, Jeannie Longo, and Mara Abbott have claimed first for the elite women.

Days after Cook’s death the New York Times published a biographical story about him. It describes a humble man whose dedication to training and a top athlete’s nutrition plan kept the scale tipped at 140 pounds while he stood 6’1” tall.

From the start in Idaho Springs cyclists would cover 27 miles and climb 6,915 feet to reach to top of Mt. Evans. Riders in each class, including the Gran Fondo with 400 participants, soon spread out along the road as they found the rhythm that suited their fitness and ambition.

Marmot on the edge of the world at Mount Evans

Marmot on the edge of the world at Mount Evans

With twelve uphill miles remaining the trees disappear and riders face a landscape of rock-strewn slopes dotted with green under a wide open sky. If they’re lucky, a chipmunk or marmot might skitter across the road ahead or a breeze might ripple a clutch of low lying yellow wildflowers and remind them that yes, despite the barren vistas, life does exist there. It’s a small but important consolation during a challenge they must face alone.

In the New York Times story about Cook, Steve Tesich, the screenplay writer for the movie Breaking Away, describes that challenge well.

”When you become as good as Bob was,” Tesich said, ”it’s that ability to do things alone, to suffer alone, to come through alone, that stands out. You get formed by it or you drop off. It’s so much easier to go on a football field with 40 guys and get a group feeling to pump you up. There’s something very fitting about the West, the mountains and being alone. It’s a quiet form of heroism, and Bob symbolized that.”

The 2014 heroes

On Saturday the thermometer registered 45 degrees Fahrenheit at the top. While storm clouds gathered in gray clumps to the west, by some miracle the wind didn’t howl. Riders of different ages and sizes arrived in a steady stream.

The fastest Gran Fondo rider, Gregory Dobbin, crossed the line after 2 hours 12 minutes. Men who hauled ten or even twenty extra pounds into the thin air hung over their bikes, breathing rapidly. Some rolled in on knobbies. Several shared the journey with a partner on a tandem. Lean super-fit masters riders stood on the pedals into the final stretch to the finish line. Many hooted and hollered as they reached the summit. Older juniors appeared, one curious to know if she had bested the record in her 17-18 age category.

Everyone seemed happy to be there, even those who had walked bikes around the final bend on the highest paved road in the US. Elite riders crossed the finish line next.

Fortunato Ferrara wins the 2014 Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb men's elite race

Fortunato Ferrara wins the 2014 Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb men’s elite race

Fortunato Ferrara from New Mexico, 10 minutes off the record still held by Tom Danielson of 1 hour 41 minutes, escaped early from the men’s pack and stayed away until the end. Ferrara, second overall at this year’s Tour of the Gila in the cat 1-2 group, celebrated his first win on Mt. Evans. In a sprint to the line Howard Grotts (Specialized) edged out Bissell Development Team’s Keegan Swirbul for second, leaving the young rider with third.

Abbott, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team member and former Giro Donne winner, took the women’s race after speeding away from her partner on the road, last year’s champion Annie Toth (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports), in the final kilometer. This was Abbott’s third victory on the peak. Toth came in second and Lindsey Knast (Primal/Audi Denver Women’s Racing) third.

As the elite riders descended they passed the last Gran Fondo rider. He finished after 6 hours 37 minutes and likely more alone than anyone else. By the time he reached the top race staff were packing up early due to the proximity of the storms.

Like Cook, he needed to finish what he’d begun.

*One notable exception is the Redlands Bicycle Classic which expanded from four to five days with the 2014 edition.

Robin Eckmann begins his descent from the top of Mt. Evans

Robin Eckmann begins his descent from the top of Mt. Evans

[Gallery - more photos to come]

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