Monday, August 11, 2014

Back in the Beehive State

The Beehive state—to recognize "industry" and the "pioneer spirit"
I am just coming off spending a bit more than a week in Utah, where I was part of the Tour of Utah crew. This was my second time to come out here for the race, the first time back in 2012. This year's route started in the south, in Cedar City, and we again ended up in Park City. In between there was some incredible countryside, but also a lot of driving and some pretty long days.
Panoramic view of the Devil's Backbone in Staircase-Escalante NM
Altogether I drove a little over 1,250 miles in the brand-new Honda mini-van that the organizers had given me. I am happy to report that I didn't scrape it up the way I did with my rental in California! As usual, I had taken along my Ritchey, and I somehow managed to squeeze in 169 miles of riding during those past 10 days on the road. The shortest ride I took was a measly 16 miles, while yesterday's 41 miles around the Park City area felt more like 82 thanks to all the climbing!
Red Canyon
The racing was exciting, and maybe you caught some of  it on television or a YouTube replay or two of some of the key moments. I don't get to see much of the race, but usually I'm there at the finish line, and things are pretty exciting, let me tell you! The Tour of Utah is billed as "America's Toughest Stage Race," and from what some of the racers told me, it is indeed hard, maybe even "ridiculously" and "over-the-top" so, as two of them put it—and these guys weren’t cannon fodder, either.
Cadel ain't cannon fodder....
... and neither are they ...
... nor is he—Jens Voigt
The Tour of Utah is not as big as the AMGEN Tour of California. The UCI ranks the latter as a 2.HC event, while the ToU is “only” a 2.1. However, that may be only a proper reflection of the prize purse and who shows up to race (fewer Pro Tour teams and more Continental and Continental Pro teams at Utah) and not necessarily an indication of the difficulty of the individual stages. Regardless, I am glad that I’m not a pro racer and have to make my money in what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most demanding sports.
Bike ...
... rides
After arriving in Salt Lake City a week ago Saturday, I went through what is called in-processing, was given several gas cards and the keys to the Odyssey, and was off on my way to Cedar City, about 230 miles to the south. The late-afternoon drive was made a little less tedious thanks to a passenger whom I had to ferry to the tour’s start, Erin, from New York, who was working on the construction crew—a carnie, if you so want. At 80 mph, we zipped down I-15, with the Wasatch mountains to the east and other ranges to the west. The setting sun cast a beautifully soft light on this open expanse of pasture land, occasional irrigated farmland, and much, much open range.

One of many ponies in Ogden
Leftover foundry equipment in Orem
On Sunday, the day of the Team Managers’ Meeting and other general preparatory tasks, it rained. Dang, I thought, here I have come to arid Utah and it rains. But by late afternoon things had cleared up and I was able to ride 20 miles before sunset, on smooth roads that were essentially devoid of any traffic—I encountered fewer than ten cars during my ramble through the pastoral setting of “greater” Cedar City. Incidentally, Ginger Bartos from the WTCA just moved out here!
On a rails-to-trails bike path outside of Park City
Utah—land of happy wetlands
The race started on Sunday, and from then on much traveling was involved. Whenever possible, I’d try to make it to the stage start to pick up the day’s start list, grid, and communiqué, and of course I would then have to rush to the stage finish where my real work started. For all but one stage we then would have to travel from the finish line to our hotel for the night, which could be as far away as two hours. And in between I’d have to find a FedEx .... On the third stage, I drove a whopping 420 miles total, having left the hotel at 7:30 a.m. and finally checking into the next one shortly before 10 p.m.
Entering Staircase-Escalante NM
But these drives were beautiful! Just like in California, I sometimes had to pinch myself and tell myself, yes, the UCI is really paying me to come out here and see all of this. One stage led by Zion National Park and the Staircase-Escalante National Monument, with the Red Canyon thrown in for good measure. I saw the ski resort at Bryan Head, and the mountain top finish at Powder Mountain (as well as the one at Snowbird) was spectacular just from the scenery. Utah is an amazing state in regard to its scenery and outdoor opportunities, and it is clear why the Tour of Utah is a powerful merchandizing tool.
You gotta give it to 'em: They put their money where their mouth is
Helping me in my work were Fred and Candi Garrison, who live in Steamboat Springs, CO. They own a huge RV that they drove from stage finish to stage finish to help me in my work. We spent several nice evenings dining out, when all the work was done. Orem, Ogden, Park City—we had a good time in all of them.
Fred and Candi in front of their 12,342,538-foot RV
That I found enough time to ride those 169 miles is surprising even to me. My days weren’t finished when I checked into the hotel: There’s always paperwork to file and prep work to be done for the next day. I don’t think I hit the rack before midnight but once. And then it was so hard to get up shortly after 7 a.m., make a cup of coffee and eat a granola bar while getting kitted up and getting out for a quick spin before having to put on the white shirt (ironed the night before—prep work!) and heading for the next stage’s start. In a quiet moment I talked to one of the team doctors, himself a former Olympian, and asked him whether he got to ride any during an event like this, and he said, no, no way. He expressed surprise that I managed to put in a few miles each day and complimented me on my discipline. Well, that made me feel good, but it was still hard.
The Jordanelle reservoir state park
The up from left to right was much steeper than the pic betrays
Downhill—always a welcome sight, even if you know you'll have to pay later
My longest ride of the week came on the last day of the tour. The stage had an unusually late start in Park City (most likely dictated by TV schedules), so I had time until about noon. Mind you, I didn’t sleep all that well because I was worried that the 40-mile route I had chosen might be too ambitious for my work schedule. Heck, I should have known better: Even with some real (and I mean real) climbs thrown in, I can ride 12 miles in an hour. The ride was beautiful, challenging, and tough, but I made it in time to get dressed up for the finish of the final stage, which—if you watched, you will agree—was a lesson in how to descend and nail a win in the last turn.
In the hotel: laundry bag waiting for a soigneur to wash the kit before the next day's stage
So, it was a great week in Utah. I got to work with some world class athletes, had the pleasure of interacting with numerous eager volunteers, made two new friends in Fred and Candi, and enjoyed the support of truly supportive organizers. For a befitting finale, I did a bit of sightseeing before today's departure. I will hold off on spouting out my thoughts about Joseph Smith and what drives Utah until I learn more about it, but I have to say that the headquarters of the beehive in Salt Lake City were quite impressive. If flowers, huge buildings, a wonderful organ, and lots of white shirts, name tags, and black suits will propel you to heaven, well, go for it!
The Temple, in the back, is not a church at all—it has rooms to get wed in, study halls, and other non-temple-like grottoes
I happened to catch the noon recital in the Tabernacle. Wow!
Speaks for itself, doesn't it?
So, despite the covert promise of a polygamous lifestyle I once again headed home, for four days, to be exact. I'll do laundry, work on the odd bike, and tend to my weeds. What a way to live, not just exist.


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