BOISE, Idaho – World-class women cyclists will be coming to Idaho for a five-day stage race later this year that could help determine competitors in the 2012 London Olympics, a decade after a previous tour for elite female riders in the state died for lack of money.
The Exergy Tour recently announced its May 24-28 Memorial Day weekend schedule. The five stages include a short prologue, a 60-mile ride over a 6,100-foot mountain pass to the historic gold mining town of Idaho City, a race on the undulating plain above the Snake River, an individual time-trial and a circuit-race featuring high-speed laps around Idaho’s capital.
The race likely will lure top U.S. riders such as 2008 Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong, a Boise resident, and former world champion Amber Neben, two rivals for a spot on the U.S. time trial team in London, as well as racers from 10 to 15 international teams eager to win points to decide who will compete for their respective countries in the Olympics this summer.
Armstrong will race on her home turf, in front of friendly crowds on familiar courses.
“The final details haven’t been divulged to me,” Armstrong said before the official public announcement about the race in Boise. “I’m not sure of every course, and the exact turns, but I can guarantee you that I’ve trained on most of the roads.”
The race’s sponsor, Boise-based renewable energy company Exergy Development Group, also supports Armstrong’s cycling team. Exergy hasn’t released prize money for its race in May, but said in a release that “it will set a new standard in creating parity for women in this sport.”
Exergy CEO James Carkulis said he hopes a top-caliber professional women’s bike race will help further convince young girls of the value of individual and team sports.
“Our vision with the Exergy Tour is to communicate this global message and work with organizations who also are dedicated to advancing the self-confidence, self-esteem and overall well-being of girls and women through physical activity,” Carkulis said in a statement.
The race is being put on by the same promoter that runs the Amgen Tour of California, the biggest U.S. men’s race.
Heather Hill, a spokeswoman, said the company is optimistic the women’s race will stretch beyond this year.
“There’s no other race, at this level, in North America,” Hill said.
For 19 years, Idaho hosted the Women’s Challenge, the world’s top women’s cycling event at the time, until its sponsor, Hewlett-Packard, exited in 2003.
At the height of that race in the 1990s, it offered $125,000 in prize money, making it the most lucrative of any U.S. cycling event, for men or women.
Jim Rabdau, who started the Women’s Challenge in 1984, said he wasn’t contacted by Exergy for help organizing this latest race but that he’s interested to see how it comes together.
Such events are a massive undertaking, he said: Organizing stages, support teams, closing roads to motorized traffic, securing an international license and convincing officials in small towns to cooperate – while making sure riders from across the globe traveling with teams with limited budgets have safe, comfortable places to stay once they arrive in Boise.
“It took a year to do this, go around and get everyone’s approval,” Rabdau said.
“I’m hoping for the very best,” he said. “The women deserve to have a great race in the U.S. again.”