Settling in last night, I knew I was in for a great day at the Prologue. I was upgraded to the Jacuzzi suite at my hotel, and even had a meal up to snuff with the Pez himself at a local Italian joint, replete with a Peroni. Sadly here in Utah the beer is only 3.2 alcohol, but it still tastes good on a warm night!
The Tour of Utah is right up there at the top of American stage racing, along with the Tours of California and Missouri. Bob Roll says, “climbing-wise, this is harder than any other race in the States”, and looking around the prologue area and the talent assembled to tackle the course, it’s hard to argue with him.
The Pez would be proud of this shot.
The buzz around the lovely state capitol building was palpable as fans and teams poured onto the grounds to set up their areas in preparation for the short but vicious prologue up what the locals call “gravity hill”. 170 riders were about to don the armor and do battle.
Floyd Landis is here. Dave Zabriskie is here. Up and coming American talents Peter Stetina and Taylor Phinney are here as well, to mention but a few. Some of the larger regional teams like Land Rover-Orbea and California Giant Berry Farms are too. Returning champion Jeff Louder brings a stacked BMC team to defend the title against other US mainstays like Rock Racing – replete with the hot handed Oscar Sevilla, Bissell, and OUCH.
Hitting the grounds early I milled around the team area as the temperature shot into the upper 80’s. I snagged a few moments with Land Rover-Orbea’s Evan Elken, here in the twilight of his career to lead a mixed team of young American and New Zealand talent. “I’ve never done this race,” he said, “I think the climbing is going to hurt a sprinter like me.” But as usual, Evan’s always smiling.
A short stroll over near the start house lead me to a quick chat with fellow sometimes Portlander Ryan Vergeront of Shimano neutral support, who was busy with what seemed like one task – moving rider’s saddles back a few millimeters.
Rolling over to the Rock Racing area I managed a short interview behind the cars with none other than Rudy Pevenage, happy to give a few words to Pez.
When asked if he thought his team was the favorite, he said, “We have a good team and we’ve done good preparation for this race, but there are a lot of great riders here. Zabriskie, Stetina, of course we want to win, but so does everyone else.” And just what does he think of American racing in general, given his team’s success of late? “I think it’s all good, but I wonder why a team like us is not invited to Missouri. I’m a little bit pissed off about that.”
After the short pre-race press conference I chatted up Eric Heiden, and simply had to ask him where he kept the gold medals. “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”, he said with a smile.
Next up was Bob Roll himself, who immediately asked me if I would enlist his help in securing some prospects for the Daily Distractions because “Utah has some gorgeous women”, to which I did not disagree. Then turning to bike racing, and the notion that the US may one day have its own grand tour, Bob said, “It’s very possible. The Tour of California is now in May, and looking at the US-based teams and the fans, we have the infrastructure to do it. If we got all the promoters together, it could happen.” When queried on his favorite beer, Bob immediately listed some Belgian heavy hitters, but admitted that he also liked Pabst and even Miller High Life. All was right with the world then, as far as I was concerned.
The racing started as the sun began its slow dip down behind the dome of the capitol, and the crowd jammed up against the fences to see their favorites. Ben Jacques-Maynes set the early best time, topping an early going Floyd Landis by 20 seconds. The racing was still going on at press time, so check back soon for results. One thing is for sure – given the talent here and the demanding course, the 2009 Tour of Utah is going to deliver some big punches!
Tour Of Utah Prologue
1 Brent Bookwalter (BMC Pro Cycling Team) 0:06:13
2 David Zabriskie (Garmin Slipstream) 0:00:01
3 Ian McKissick (BMC Pro Cycling Team) 0:00:02
4 Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) 0:00:03
5 Jeff Louder (BMC Pro Cycling Team) 0:00:03
6 Chris Barton (BMC Pro Cycling Team) 0:00:05
7 Francisco Mancebo Perez (Rock Racing) 0:00:05
8 Jesse Sergent (U23 Trek-LIVESTRONG) 0:00:05
9 Nick Frey (Ciclismo Racing) 0:00:07
10 Tom Zirbel (Bissell Pro Cycling) 0:00:08