Stage 4 – Lehi to Salt Lake City (134.3 miles)
We started about 25 miles into Stage 4. Because it was a 134 mile stage, and it had a “lollipop” in it, we had to push forward to get as far into the stage as we could before getting held up by the pros coming through. Our start point was in the middle of the Utah desert. Seriously… it was the desert. The stage profile was very flat, so the riders made pretty good time. Unfortunately, because it was the desert, there was very little scenery. I did snap a few shots of the flat landscape and some Pony Express landmarks, though.
We did get caught by the pros on the lollipop, but we made it almost to the “end of the stick” before heading north, towards Salt Lake City. It was a very long day, and I blame it mostly on the lack of scenery for the first several hours of the ride. The week, so far, had been uneventful, as far as mechanical or rider support issues, which was good.
Stage 5 – Newpark Town Center to Snowbird (101.1 miles)
This stage was the queen stage of the Tour of Utah, with around 10,000 feet of climbing. There were some serious climbs ahead of the guys, but we were more concerned about the start of the ride. We were scheduled to have a ceremonial start at Newpark Town Center in the midst of a gran fondo that rode the entire race course. Instead of the “ceremonial start” we were supposed to get, we ended up getting thrown in amongst the fondo riders. In case you weren’t aware of it, support for an event like ours gets a lot harder when you add an extra 700 RIDERS to the road…
The extra riders added to the confusion, for sure. At our first rest stop, I tried to speed up to get going and beat a group of fondo riders back onto the road, and forgot to shut the tailgate of the truck. Looking in the rear-view mirror, I saw my big cooler come out of the truck and go spinning into the highway, rocketing bottles all over the place… I cleaned up the mess, drove to a grocery store to replenish my ice and water, and continued on. Everything was good in the end, but for about 45 minutes, I was pretty panic-stricken.
As we continued on, I had to fight my way through the fondo traffic up and down the intermediate KOM climbs to keep up with my group. The climbs were tight and twisty, and it was very difficult with two-way bike traffic and auto traffic. We managed to make it through the KOM’s, through the small towns where sprints were located, then approached the climb to Snowbird. I had visited Snowbird before for a Specialized dealer event, about 3 years ago, so I knew the climb up to the resort. It was a long, somewhat steep climb, and coming at the end of a 100-mile day, it was going to be no easy feat for our guys.
I made the decision to give the guys bottle hand-ups from the roadside on the way up the hill. They would ditch their empty bottles, I’d give them a fresh bottle, then I’d give them a spray of water on their back or head and give them a push up the road. This made a huge difference to them. They were able to shed a bottle, get a little reprieve from the heat, and get a friendly boost up the road. Helped for a second, at least…
All the guys made it up the climb, except one coach, Colin Izzard. He had the legs to go up the climb, but one of the riders suffered a broken spoke, so he sacrificed his rear wheel and helped me sag the guys up the hill. I definitely needed the help that day. It was hot, and we did a lot of work on that last climb, making sure all the guys were okay.
This was the final day of the Tour of Utah, and had some of the steepest climbing I had ever seen. The ride was pretty chill for a long while, except for scrambling around for some odd course markings on some smaller, sketchier roads. A lot of times, we headed out earlier than the course marking crews, so sometimes we miss turns if the numbers in the race bible get jumbled. We had two or three odd turns that weren’t marked well, so we had to figure that out before moving forward. Once we got back on the main road, we found our way.
There were a few major climbs in this stage. The first was through a gated neighborhood, Wolf Creek Ranch, usually closed to the public. Once we turned on the climb, we one of the steepest pitches I had ever seen. After 5 days of riding, I know the guys were begging for it to stop, but the climbing continued… The boys started “paperboy-ing” (weaving side to side to take the edge off the climb), so I got out of the truck to give them little pushes through some of the turns. Unfortunately, this was only the first major climb of the day…
The guys continued on, rolling comfortably until we approached Empire Pass. Empire Pass was hand-selected by Levi Leipheimer for this race, due to it’s length and difficulty, and probably because Levi knew the climb inside and out (Levi won Stage 6 on this day, after our athletes finished). Needless to say, this climb was a huge obstacle for the athletes, regardless of their fitness. Less than 500 meters into the climb, the “paperboy-ing” started again… I knew we were in for it.
Strangely, one of our athletes, Shannon Lawrence from Bermuda, started stretching his legs a bit. He was very nervous going into the day, and said for the first 40 miles of the ride that his legs were feeling very heavy. On Empire Pass, he had evidently worked all the kinks out, because he steadily motored away from the rest of the group. I don’t know what got into him, but he changed from flatlander to climbing machine that day. It made things a bit difficult for me, though… he was so far up the road, I would have to zoom ahead in the truck to take care of him, then wait or drive back down the mountain to feed and push the other riders. It was definitely a test of my abilities, not as a mechanic, but as a sag driver (NOTE: My legs were sore the next day from running and pushing riders up 20% grade hills for two days… just sayin’…).
Shannon made it to the top first, and the rest of the group followed shortly thereafter. There was a nice, long, windy descent with one minor little kick in it before the finish in Park City. All the group descended into town together and finished the CTS Tour of Utah Race Experience together. All the guys made it, and like most of the CTS events I’ve been to, they seem to have forged a bond and developed a sense of team accomplishment that I have only seen in my days in the Marines. All the guys are friends, and seem to have gained a brotherly bond over the course of the week.
After we returned back down to Salt Lake City, I began packing bikes for the riders’ journeys home. Once completed, we organized the trucks to travel to their respective destinations, then got ready for our team dinner and departure. Another race week in the books. Next up, four days off, then back out west for the Tour of Colorado… STAY TUNED!