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In order to gain access to Zion National Park, the Tour of Utah had to make a number of concessions. The peloton was forbidden from racing along the 12.2-mile stretch of Zion-Mt. Carmel highway. Instead, the group had to ride along at a leisurely 15mph.
The race had to start promptly at 7:55 a.m. in order to pass through the park before it opened. The early schedule forced teams to enact a 5 a.m. wakeup call, which is much earlier than normal for this race.
Was the section through Zion worth the hassle? All riders who spoke with VeloNews said that the experience was worth the headaches.
“All of the riders were gazing up at the countryside — there were almost some crashes actually,” said Swiss rider Tom Bohli of BMC Racing. “I think it’s important to promote places like this. We would not have time to visit such places.”
Adrian Costa of the Axeon-Hagens Berman team said the neutral rollout felt strange at first, but soon after the group left Zion Canyons Village the riders began talking and joking.
Riders were forbidden from attacking during the rollout. They also were forbidden from tossing bottles on the side of the road, stopping to pee, or littering.
“People just started enjoying the experience,” Costa said. “It’s an experience I’ll remember for a long while.”
Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing), said some riders were grumbling about the early wakeup call and the hourlong transfer from Cedar City to Zion Canyons Village for the start. Usually, Tour of Utah stages start around 11 a.m., which gives riders plenty of time to wake up, drink coffee, and warm up before the stage.
Once the stage began, Rosskopf said, the gripes quickly went away.
“I think everyone was in awe,” Rosskopft said.
Rosskopft said the 12.2-mile neutral zone was also a welcomed way to start the race. Neutral sections are traditionally much shorter, and tensions can run high, as riders jostle for position. The early attacks always start as soon as the riders exit the section.
“If we had started normally, it would have been a really nervous 5km,” he said. “Instead we had 45 minutes to not worry about position, to get our legs moving and to take in the scenery.”