Tour of Utah to start in Park City

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The 2011 Tour of Utah will start in Park City for the first time after being elevated this year to one of the top three professional stage races for road cycling in North America.

Event organizers unveiled six host venues on Wednesday and also indicated four of the top international teams have been extended invitations to compete Aug. 9-14.

Those include Team RadioShack, home for defending Tour of Utah champion Levi Leipheimer; HTC-Highroad, the No. 1 team in the world; Team Garmin-Cervelo, home of world champion Thor Hushovd; and BMC Racing Team, new team for 2010 Tour of Utah prologue winner Taylor Phinney.

Phinney was unable to attend Wednesday's press conference held at the state capitol because he was competing in the Tour of Oman. But his renowned cycling father spoke about the opportunity to see some of the best riders in the world.

''I was 15 when I saw my first bike race (in Colorado),'' said Davis Phinney, who went on to become the first American to win a stage in the Tour de France and a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics. ''I was a little kid in search of a hero, in search of a dream. Watching those guys fly by, I was hooked.''

He said having the Utah race in the same month as Lance Armstrong's Tour Challenge in Colorado makes it enticing for the best teams in the world to race in both.

''You may not have some of the best sprinters in the world because this is a hard race,'' Davis Phinney said of the 400-mile race that includes 30,000 feet of climbing. ''But you will see some of the best riders period, potential (challengers) in the Tour de France.''

The opening prologue starts in Park City. The first two stages, Aug. 10-11, are in Ogden and Provo.

Stage 3 is an individual time trial set for Aug. 12 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele.

Stage 4 is a circuit race in Salt Lake City on Aug. 13 and the final stage is a road race Aug. 14 from Park City to Snowbird Ski Resort.

Teams will compete for $116,000 in prize money - up from $45,000 in previous years.

''This year you'll see the best riders in the world descend upon Utah,'' said Steve Johnson, CEO for USA Cycling. ''But many of these riders are American.''

The Tour of Utah began as a three-day event in 2004. The Utah Cycling Partnership, owned by family members from the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, purchased the event in 2007 and relaunched it in 2008 as a five-day race.

Since then it has become known as America's Toughest Stage Race, and is sanctioned both by USA Cycling and the Union Cycliste Internationale. It has been elevated to a 2.1-rated event on the UCI American Tour.

Of the 30 sanctioned races on the UCA American Tour in 2011, the Tour of Utah joins the Pro Challenge in Colorado and the Tour of California as the only top-rated stage races in North America.

A maximum of 15 professional teams, with eight riders per team, will be invited to this year's Tour of Utah.

''It was a great race in Utah last year,'' said Leipheimer, who finished 13th overall in last year's Tour de France. ''The 2011 Tour of Utah is a must-see race for U.S. fans, where you'll find the best cycling athletes in the world competing across one of the most scenic regions in the world.''

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