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Women's pro bike race to be resurrected in Idaho

Updated: February 13, 2012, 18:23

BOISE, Idaho (AP) World-class women cyclists are due to come 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 on Monday announced its May 24-28 Memorial Day weekend schedule.

The five stages include a short prologue in Boise; a stage in Nampa, on the undulating plain above the Snake River; an individual time-trial in the little high-desert town of Kuna; a 60-mile ride over a 6,100-foot mountain pass between tiny Crouch and the historic gold mining town of Idaho City; and a circuit race featuring high-speed laps around Idaho's capital on Memorial Day.

Jeff Corbett, the race's technical director from Atlanta-based Medalist Sports, the same promoter that runs the Amgen Tour of California, said he's still finalizing the exact stage routes.

"We tried to pick something that wasn't a total death march, but obviously didn't have five days of sprint finishes,'' Corbett said. "We wanted something that was going to come down to the last day.''

Corbett said the race is already sanctioned by the International Cycling Union, the sport's governing body.

Mayors of the five host cities - Boise, Nampa, Kuna, Crouch and Idaho City - appeared at a news conference on Monday with Lori Otter, wife of Gov. C.L. "Butch'' Otter to announce their participation, including in efforts to organize 1,500 volunteers.

The race will likely lure top U.S. riders like 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 race's sponsor, Boise-based renewable energy company Exergy Development Group, also sponsors Armstrong's cycling team.

"The final details haven't been divulged to me,'' Armstrong told The Associated Press on Monday, in an interview while she was driving back to Idaho from her monthlong winter training camp in Southern California. "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.''

Neben's professional team, HTC Highroad based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., didn't immediately return a phone call on Monday seeking comment on whether she'd be racing in Boise.

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.

Awards will be given for the overall race, sprints leader, queen of the mountains, best young rider and most-aggressive rider.

Heather Hill, a tour spokeswoman, said the company is optimistic the women's race will stretch beyond this year, perhaps expanding to seven or eight stages in 2013.

She said the prize money, which hasn't been announced yet, will be comparable to what professional men would earn during a five-day U.S. stage race.

"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 for a time 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 said 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. The women deserve to have a great race in the U.S. again.''

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