When the 14th annual Tour of Utah begins Monday, St. George resident TJ Eisenhart will be looking to take full advantage of his intimate knowledge of Utah's roads. Raised in Lehi, having lived in Park City and spending a good share of this summer climbing near Brian Head, no entrant in the 2018 Tour of Utah knows Utah like Eisenhart.
The Holowesko-Citadel professional moved to St. George this summer to be closer to his fiance. In doing so, he became more acquainted with the charm and majesty of southern Utah.
“It's fun, and I seriously just like riding and racing and preparing for this race,” Eisenhart said. “It is a great honor to spend time training at Brian Head and Cedar City, and I've had a lot of fun seeing Duck Creek and riding through Cedar Breaks.”
During a Wednesday press conference, Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, referenced a YouTube video where Eisenhart describes his love of riding the Alpine Loop. Varela called Eisenhart one of the best ambassadors for tourism in the state of Utah.
“I've never once gotten tired of the Alpine Loop,” Eisenhart says during the video. “I can't tell you how many times I've ridden these climbs here. Funny thing is every time I get to the top it's a different experience.”
As Eisenhart describes training in his home state, he says, "I want to get out and discover (Utah) and I want to see what makes this state so beautiful."
While a love of Utah might get Utah cycling enthusiasts out on these epic climbs, it takes a love of the sport to attack the climbs that will take Tour of Utah riders up 43,780 feet of elevation gain during the seven-day event.
When Eisenhart was 8 years old, he and his family went to Spain to visit a brother who had just finished an LDS mission. While in Spain, the Eisenhart family took in a stage of the Tour de France.
“Lance Armstrong was racing, and our family instantly fell in love,” Eisenhart said.
While his father and brother brought bikes home from France, Eisenhart continually pestered his father for his own bike.
“Around the age of 11, they finally got me a bike and I would just go out and ride with them,” Eisenhart said.
Eisenhart isn't just a cyclist, he's a cycling enthusiast and a fan of the sport. At age 10, he witnessed one of the first Tours of Utah.
“It was down near Thanksgiving Point, and I remember the Jamba Juice jerseys,” he said.
As the Tour of Utah matured, Eisenhart noticed bigger and bigger cycling names coming to Utah. As his love of riding a bike became a professional job possibility, he began calculating having his first professional race be the Tour of Utah.
That dream became a reality at the age of 21 when Eisenhart, competing with the BMC squad, entered and finished sixth in his first pro race
Eisenhart says his love for the Tour of Utah was instant.
“It was awesome to finally have something in Utah like California has with the Tour of California,” he said. “There used to be a tour in Georgia and Missouri, but it was cool that my state, a state I love, truly loves what I'm doing.”
As the 2018 edition of the Tour of Utah begins Monday, a total of 17 professional teams will bring 116 athletes representing 20 countries for the 548-mile race. The defending champion, Rally Cycling's Rob Britton, is back to defend his title, and 2015 champion Joe Dombrowski, EF Education First-Drapac cyclist, has been in Park City for the past two weeks acclimatizing himself to the altitude and dry climate of Utah.
Monday's individual time trial will be followed by stages in Cedar City, Payson and Antelope Island to Layton. Friday's race is a 68-mile, 10-lap circuit around Salt Lake City, and Saturday's race, the Queen Stage, will finish at Snowbird Ski Resort. The final stage will finish in Park City, but not before the professional cyclists get to battle Empire Pass with its challenging road conditions and 10-20 percent grades.