When a tailspinning economy and doping scandals caused sponsors to rethink the way they spend money, the sport of cycling was hit hard. Several teams, races and organizations had to scale back, reconfigure or just plain drop out.

The Tour of Utah — launching an ambitious plan to jump into the world of international stage racing — was supposed to climb into a rare group of bicycle races in North America and attract the top teams in the world.

"We were maybe a little too ambitious,"Tour of Utah executive director Terry McGinnis said. "We had a great race in 2006 and wanted to see that growth continue. But the timing didn"t work out." Now, two years removed from the 2006 version, the Tour of Utah is back with an incredibly deep field, a National Racing Calendar-best $75,000 purse and five days of dizzying climbs, blazing descents and thrilling sprints on tap.

"I have had so many cyclists out there tell me how happy they are to have this race back on the calendar' Salt Lake"s Burke Swindlehurst said. "They were really pretty upset when it was pulled last year. To see it come back is really good. I"ve had a lot of people tell me they"re looking forward to this race." With the support of the Larry H. Miller group and new race owner Greg Miller, the Tour of Utah was revived and put back on the calendar. The timing of the race fit perfectly into the national race schedule and the purse attracted teams such at Garmin-Chipotle, Rock Racing, BMC and Health Net/Maxxis.

"This may be the deepest field of racers in the country this year," McGinnis said. "I know a lot of them put this on their schedules a long time ago." The landscape of professional cycling is still a little tumultuous. A similar stage race scheduled for Colorado next month was scrapped after sufficient sponsor deals were not secured. Big races from Pennsylvania to California have seen a reduction in scope and scale.

But other races, such as the Tour of Utah, appear to be filling the calendar and, Swindlehurst said, the sport is far from dying.

"I think what we"re seeing is the evolution of the sport,"the Bissell Cycling racer said. "People still love the sport. You"re seeing it change a little here and there, but you"re also seeing it grow. There are more races now than I can ever remember." Though he admits some sponsor were a little leery of signing on for the 2008 version of the event, McGinnis said once a few key sponsorships were secured, others fell into place.

"I was a little surprised at how it all came together,"McGinnis said. "I won"t say it was easy putting it together, but we"re in good shape for this year and I think the race is pretty healthy." And with a few more races like this year's, the Tour of Utah may very well be a fixture on the calendar for years to come.


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