Former Champion Andy Bajadali Leads Charge for Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth Pro Cycling Former Champion Andy Bajadali Leads Charge for Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth Pro Cycling At The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth Pro Cycling will be sending a climbing-centric 8-man team lead by 2005 champion Andy Bajadali to "America's Toughest Stage Race" - the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Aug. 9-14.
The "toughest" moniker is no exaggeration – the 2011 version of the race will be the hardest ever in the event's seven year history. Elevated for the first time to a UCI 2.1 ranking, the six-day event will cover 30,000 feet of climbing across 409 miles. In a region known for its wildly diverse terrain, the course offers a unique set of challenges to the KBS-OptumHealth roster.
"We are extremely pleased to receive an invitation to Utah this year; it is one of the most unique and difficult events in the Western Hemisphere, and one that suits our team's climbers and our aggressive style," said Performance Director Jonas Carney. "Given its high-level status on the UCI calendar and that our co-title sponsor, OptumHealth has a significant presence in the Salt Lake City area with its OptumHealth Bank, we want to put on a good show in Utah."
Also upping the difficulty in 2011 will be the most competitive field in the races history. The start list features six ProTeams, including BMC, Garmin-Cervelo, Liquigas-Cannondale, and Team RadioShack with returning champion Levi Leipheimer in tow. All in all, sixteen teams from around the world will battle for $116,000 in prize money and supremacy on some of America's most daunting mountain passes. Grand tour veterans and long-time NRC stars like Bajadali and Alex Candelario will rub shoulders on highly selective courses.
"As a former champion of this race, Baj is extremely motivated to return to Utah finally in good health from his 2010 knee injury," added Carney. "The course profiles I have seen so far should be highly favorable for his style of rider."
Bajadali and other climbing threats will be tested early and often - the first stage, set in Ogden City, features three ascents of the infamous North Ogden Pass Road, peaking at 3000 feet. This challenging course should soften the competition for the overall considerably, where it will inevitably break open the field on the race's classic fifth and final stage.
The final 100-mile trek from Kimball Junction to Snowbird Resort is a legendary Utah route, with 10,900 feet of vertical gain. It features a steep up-and-down through Alpine Pass and Robert Redford's Sundance resort, cresting in the shadow of Mt. Timpanogos. After plunging down a beautiful and challenging descent back into suburbia, riders will be faced with one final obstacle – an 8-12 percent grade climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon and a decisive mountaintop finish at Snowbird. The rider who raises his hands here, 8000 feet up, will most likely be crowned champion. Such a selective final day is highly favorable to pure climbers.
The race will be broadcast live nationally in its entirety on FOX Sports Network (FSN), and streamed live online free via TourTracker.