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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Salt Lake's Jeff Louder eases up on his bicycle after winning Stage 4 of the Tour of Utah at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Louder was the overall winner of the race.

Twelve months ago, no one knew if the Tour of Utah would ever be held again.

Now, after a successful race featuring what some described as the deepest field to compete on this year's National Racing Calendar, the Tour of Utah is already making plans for next year's race.

"I'm already working on that," Tour of Utah executive director Terry McGinnis said. "There really isn't any time to rest right now. This is the time to start making plans."

With powerful teams like Garmin-Chipotle, Rock Racing and BMC sending many of their top athletes to the event, the Tour of Utah is re-established as one of America's top cycling events. While it is

still a young race and not on the same scale as the international racing calendar's Tours of California and Georgia, the five-day race in Utah clearly has a spot in the hearts of domestic pros.

"I live in Colorado," said Bissel Pro Cycling's Tom Zirbel — the winner of Sunday's time trial. "We have the mountains and the ability to do a race like this. We just don't have anyone stepping up to do it.

"So when you look at the roads and canyons and the venues," he said, "this really is one of the best races I've ever been in."

A lack of sufficient sponsorship deals left the 2007 version of the race well short of its overly ambitious goals of joining the UCI schedule. Scaling back, organizers still turned the 2008 version of the race into the biggest on the NRC with a $75,000 purse and more lung-burning climbing than any other race in the country.

The cash, the mountains and the prestige of winning such a brutal test of cycling fitness left cyclists talking.

"We're all pretty competitive people," said Salt Lake's Burke Swindlehurst, who placed fourth overall riding for Bissel. "Saying you won a race like the Tour of Utah is a real feather in your cap. Even more than the purse, I think every (racer) in the Tour of Utah would like to be able to say they won on this kind of a course."

Race winner Jeff Louder has come close to winning stage races in his career, but this is the first time he found his way to the top step of a podium in an NRC stage race. A month ago, he was second to only Levi Leipheimer at Oregon's Cascade Cycling Classic.

"It's awesome to see it back," said Louder, racing for BMC Pro Cycling. "It was a big hole on the calendar for me. I know a lot of my teammates were excited to see it back, too."

When the 2009 version of the race rolls around, there will be changes, McGinnis said.

The operating budget might not change, but the purse will.

"I had teams tell me they'd rather see some of the money from the purse go to other things," McGinnis said. "They'd prefer to see the money go to athlete lodging and travel expenses."

And while there are certainly some tremendous roads to race bicycles on in other areas of the state, the plans do not call for moving the race any farther away from Salt Lake City than it was this year. The cost and time involved with transporting nearly 120 cyclists with their support staff and caravan to places like Moab, Flaming Gorge or Logan Canyon means things will stay close to the Wasatch Front.

Another change might come in the form of road closures for the race. Though a "rolling barricade" of police and race officials accompanied the peloton from start to finish, there were many close calls involved automobiles — either moving or parked on the side of the course — which left cyclists a little scared and in danger as they descended roads such as American Fork and Emigration canyons.

Confusing or obscured signage also had a few cyclists missing turns after they had been left behind by the race leaders. Additional course marshals on key turns and intersections will likely be added in future races.

Overall, however, race organizers were pleased with the way the event played out.

Reporters from the biggest cycling publications in the country came to cover the race. Crowds packed the mountain summits and cheered on the racers. And Utah was showcased as a cycling destination not limited to the slickrock trails of Moab.

"I don't think we could ask for much more," said Swindlehurst, who helped design the course. "This shows off the state I love and continue to live in in a great way. I think the race is perfect."

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