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The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah enters its third day of racing with a short but steep time trial up Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon Tuesday. Starting at an elevation of 7,300 feet, the course climbs 1,725 vertical feet with an average gradient of 5.5 percent. With the GC race tightly packed after two days of racing (Sepp Kuss leads but Brent Bookwalter has the same overall time), Cottonwood’s time trial will be pivotal in the GC competition.
“It could be the most decisive day of the race,” Bookwalter said. “But it’s a new stage so it’s hard to know.”
GC hopeful and Utah native TJ Eisenhart is expecting the altitude and weather conditions to play a bigger role on the stage than the gradient.
“It’s exposed so it’s going to be hot,” Eisenhart said. “And every time I’ve done it, it’s had a slight headwind.”
Living nearby, Eisenhart has ridden Big Cottonwood many times.
“It’s a funny little climb because at the beginning it’s pretty rolling, but then it hits a really hard gradient,” Eisenhart said. “A lot of guys will be tempted to go pretty hard at the beginning just to get the speed up.”
When you’re riding at 8,000 feet, however, there’s no going back once you cross that red line.
Race leader Sepp Kuss isn’t worried about the altitude though. In fact, he’s excited for it.
“I really like the altitude,” he said. “It’s a weird thing. But growing up mountain bike racing in Colorado, all of our races started at 8,000 or 9,000 feet. When you get up that high you almost get a second wind. That’s how I feel as an altitude-native.”
While stage 3 is indeed a time trial, riders will not pilot the aerodynamic bikes and equipment we typically see on TTs. To help even the playing field between large and small teams, the Tour of Utah included special regulations that limit the equipment used on the uphill course. Bikes ridden in the time trial must comply with UCI regulations for road race competition. That means no TT bikes and no clip-on aero bars.
Wheels must also comply with road racing regulations, so we won’t see any discs out on Cottonwood Canyon — not that riders would want to lug the extra weight up the climb anyway.
Most riders would have opted for the lighter setup without the regulations, so there isn’t much contention around these rules.
“[The course] is too hard to even have TT bikes on it,” Holowesko Citadel Racing Team sports director Thomas Craven said. “[The regulation] just makes the decision for everyone.”
It’s a decision that has every team’s mechanic quietly celebrating.
“Personally, I would say TT bikes are a pain in the butt,” Craven said. “They are cool and they’re great to have and it’s a good showcase for all of the technology. But [their absence] makes it easier for the mechanics and for us traveling all over the place. That’s 15 extra bikes you don’t have to fit into the truck.”