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Rare air ahead as Tour of Utah begins Monday

SALT LAKE CITY — Several days ago, Elevate-KHS rider James Piccoli and a teammate were cycling to the top of Powder Mountain ski resort. Temperatures were sweltering and as the pair were suffering up the mountain, they came upon a car that had overheated, fried a radiator and was pulled over waiting for help.

The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah starts Monday with a prologue (individual time-trial), followed by Stage One in North Logan. After that, cyclists will brace for the Brigham City to Powder Mountain Stage Two. This stage features 84.4 miles of racing, 7,316 feet of elevation gain and a finish at the oxygen-reduced air at 9,000 feet.

“Every variable that you can need to have a hard climb is there,” Piccoli said. “It finishes at high altitude, it has gravel at the very top of the climb and every rider who makes it to the top will have given everything they have.”

The 15th annual Tour of Utah begins Monday at Snowbird. Unlike the legendary climbs fans have become accustomed to up Little Cottonwood Canyon, Monday's prologue is only 3.3 miles long. The first 1.5 miles is uphill and after snaking around the Cliff Lodge on Bypass Road, cyclists will have a speed-galore 1.5-mile-long descent to the finish line.

Sprinter Ty Magner of the Rally UHC Cycling team isn't looking to win the prologue, but he says the undulating terrain of that 3.3-mile-long course should start the 2019 tour off with a bang.

“A climber is going to win it or someone that can go downhill really, really fast,” Magner said.

On Tuesday, riders turn their attention to Stage One, the North Logan Stage. The 86.9-mile stage features cyclists passing through Newton three times with a furious five 7-mile laps through North Logan, with a finish at Meadow View Park.

Sprinter Eric Young of the Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling Team, when asked what stages he might aim for, joked with an audience gathered at a Thursday press conference.

“Am I allowed to say none?” Young said regarding a challenging 2019 tour. “As a sprinter, maybe Stage One, maybe the Salt Lake City circuit, but honestly you guys have put together a really hard tour.”

Magner echoed Young's sentiments, suggesting the North Logan stage should be a sprinter's stage.

“It suits me, the climb is hard but it just depends on how the stage is raced,” he said. “We will see how things shake out in the prologue and what team holds the yellow jersey.”

Stage Three, for the fourth time, begins at Antelope Island. After reaching the mainland, cyclists will travel through the communities of West Point, Layton, Kaysville, Fruit Heights and Farmington. Three category climbs in the last 29 miles await cyclists who will finish with 3.75 laps of a 6-mile circuit with a finish in front of Eaglewood Golf Course.

Race organizers moved the start of Friday's Stage Four, the Salt Lake City circuit race, to 5:55 p.m. John Kimball, managing director of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, said the race is expected to finish around 8 p.m. He encouraged fans to bring out a chair or blanket and enjoy the twilight experience as cyclists complete eight laps around downtown Salt Lake City.

And then the racing really begins.

Saturday and Sunday's stages are geared toward climbers. Saturday's race features an 85.1-mile course with 5,236 feet of vertical climbing, starting and finishing at Canyons Village at Park City Mountain. Sunday's stage starts and finishes on Main Street in Park City. The final stage is 78.2 miles, but features 10,009 feet of climbing, including the challenging Empire Pass climb.

The 2015 Tour of Utah champion, Joe Dombrowski, spent most of his year in Europe. The EF Education First rider only arrived in Utah several days ago and isn't sure how his body will adjust to the altitude.

“In an ideal scenario, the earlier you come out is the best,” he said. “I've had a relatively easy week of training as sometimes you come to altitude and you head out belting your training and that can knock you off your feet.”

While Dombrowski isn't sure about his shape, he's sure about his EF Education team being in the hunt for a rider to win the general classification (yellow jersey).

“Form is a question for me,” he said. “We have a strong team here and we'd like for one of our riders to get that general classification title.”