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About three years ago, Steve Miller of the Larry H. Miller Sports Properties and Executive Director Jenn Andrs gathered in a room to survey the Utah state map. It has become an annual meeting between the two and board members that helps lay down the framework for integrating new and scenic sites that haven't yet been featured in the race.

"Jenn and I talk about this proverbial map that hangs in the office. … Zion National Park was circled a long, long time ago, many years ago," Miller said.

On that particular day, the group started scheming up potential ways to incorporate Zion National Park into the Tour of Utah, a dream destination that had been on the race's radar for quite some time, but one that was undoubtedly going to require quite a bit of planning ahead with the delicate intricacies of partnering with a historic National Park.

"It was almost a three-year process for us to work with the National Park Service … to bring the race into Zion National Park and back into Cedar City," Andrs said with a big smile. "Our team … did a great job of working with the park and meeting a lot of the concessions that they requested so we could take the race through the park and showcase the beauty of what is in our state."

At Sunday's opening news conference on Southern Utah University's campus in Cedar City, some of those very board members and Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson proudly sat in front of media members to kick off the 12th annual Tour of Utah and announce a 12-mile ceremonial ride in Zion, which will be celebrating its Centennial year. The short ride will connect with the first stage starting line in Zion Canyon Village on Monday morning.

In addition to being able to check off Zion National Park as new site, the Tour of Utah will also feature another strong group of racers. From last year's winner, Joe Dombrowski of Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team, to 31 recent Tour de France racers, this year's competition will look to further solidify its status as one of just five UCI-sanctioned, multi-stage races in North America.

From Monday to Sunday, this year's Tour of Utah will span 705 miles from Cedar City to Park City, and climb more than 52,000 feet in vertical elevation.

"This is the best model, the most successful model for a state race in the U.S.," USA Cycling Board Member and Member of UCI Road Commission Sean Petty said. "As we've seen, stage races unfortunately — the economy's tough — come and go, so it's important to have something here. I couldn't be more looking forward to tomorrow's stage than any I've been to in a long time. … Getting out there before the sun gets up, I'm sure it will be breathtaking." —

Tour of Utah

P Stage 1, Zion Zion Canyon Village to Cedar City

TV • 10 a.m., FS2