The Tour of Utah just got a new favorite.
Though defending champ Jeff Louder, former Tour de France winner Floyd Landis and dozens of other top professional cyclists are gathering in the Beehive State for what is billed as the toughest bicycle race in the country, they'll all have their eyes on Salt Lake City's Dave Zabriskie, who announced Monday he will be racing the event.
"Just confirmed I will be racing Tour of Utah," Zabriskie, the three-time defending USA time trial champion said on his Twitter account. "Excited to race on the roads I grew up on."
Terry McGinnis, director of the Tour of Utah, confirmed the news as well.
"It's definitely huge for us," McGinnis said. "I have no qualms with him riding at all."
Unlike the other athletes, McGinnis said, Zabriskie will be racing without the support of a team. He'll be wearing his Garmin-Slipstream kit, but will not be joined by any of his teammates.
"I've always been interested in it," Zabriskie told the Deseret News on Monday. "But it's never fit into my schedule because I've always been over in Europe racing. So, for me, it's kind of like a guy from France getting to race in the Tour. This is kind of my home race and I've been excited to see it grow as big as it is."
After a strong showing in the recently completed Tour de France, riding alone might not be a problem for Zabriskie.
"He's talented enough that he doesn't need a team," McGinnis said.
Zabriskie, however, said he'll have anything but a free ride to the top of the podium.
"It fits perfectly for me," Zabriskie, who will defend his national championship a week after the Tour of Utah. "I'll try to do well, but the plan is for me to use this as high-altitude training before nationals. I'm definitely going to give it my best, though."
Zabriskie returned to Utah recently to prepare for nationals and began riding his native roads with Landis and a few other pros training in the state. As he trained, he decided he'd like to race the event and contacted McGinnis.
After giving it a few seconds of thought, McGinnis eagerly added Zabriskie's name to the list of entrants.
"We're really excited to have an athlete like Dave racing," McGinnis said. "With so many other events falling off the calendar, it's great exposure for the sport to have someone of Dave's capabilities racing here."
The Tour of Utah begins Aug. 18 with a time trial prologue around Memory Grove near the state capitol.
Tour of Utah
When: Aug. 18-23
What: Six stages, 325 miles