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Date Posted: 06:36:53 05/17/07 Thu
Subject: Tour de PA
Tour of Pennsylvania, a world-class bicycle race, planned for '08
Thursday, May 17, 2007
By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- It's shorter, faster, younger and closer than the Tour de France.
The Tour of Pennsylvania bicycle race, announced yesterday in Harrisburg, also is expected to be a tour de force for the state.
The 500-mile race will start June 24, 2008, in Philadelphia and end June 29 at Point State Park in Pittsburgh, where an estimated 100,000 spectators will watch the 120 cyclists from around the globe cross the finish line.
It will be the first Tour de France-style race for the espoir -- or under-25 -- class in the United States.
With a $250,000 purse -- the largest in the world for the class -- and a challenging route, the race is expected to draw a large international following, organizers said.
"The route's combination of rolling hills and city streets make it the ideal setting for a race," said John Eustice, a Tour de France commentator and supporter of the Pennsylvania Lightning, a Philadelphia-based team of espoir cyclists expected to compete in the race. "It will truly test the abilities of every rider on the tour."
The tour's route will roughly follow the historic Forbes Road, along U.S. 30, which was created in 1758 when British Gen. John Forbes and Col. George Washington forged a trail through the Allegheny Mountains, founding Bedford, Ligonier and Pittsburgh.
Timed to coincide with Pittsburgh's 250th birthday, the race also is expected to give the Steel City international exposure and boost its image.
"The eyes of the world will be on Pittsburgh," said Mike Langley, chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. "Pittsburgh is going to be on a global stage."
"The problem is less that there's a negative perception of Pittsburgh but that there is no perception of Pittsburgh," said Bill Flanagan, executive director of Pittsburgh 250, a commission founded to celebrate the city's 250th anniversary.
Other communities will benefit, too, Gov. Ed Rendell said.
"The Tour of Pennsylvania will help spotlight the commonwealth's scenic countryside and rich history like nothing before," he said. "We expect each city and town along the race route to benefit from an unprecedented influx of spectators from across the country and around the world."
The cyclists will ride through Valley Forge, Reading, Lancaster, Hershey, Harrisburg, Carlisle, Bedford, Ligonier, Latrobe, Fort Necessity and Uniontown.
While state and local officials view the race as a way to elevate their cities, cycling enthusiasts see it as a way to promote their sport.
"The future of this sport is tied to the United States," said the race's executive director, Dave Chauner, of West Chester, who hopes to make Tour of Pennsylvania an annual event. "The U.S. is on the forefront now, and it's engaging in a different form of racing than in Europe: shorter, faster, more spectacular races."
Three-time Olympic cyclist Jack Simes, who coaches the Pennsylvania Lightning, said the Tour of Pennsylvania will be an important race.
"Younger future champions will view it as a key event they'll plan their season around. The winner of the race will certainly get offers for a full professional contract," Mr. Simes said. "Teams are going to be focusing on Pennsylvania."
The race will feature Healthy High 5 Festivals, a series of free health fairs along the route sponsored by Pittsburgh-based Highmark Inc. One fair will be held in Pittsburgh and fairs in other locations will be announced as race day gets closer, said Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation.
Highmark and American Eagle Outfitters, both based in Pittsburgh, are the race's main corporate sponsors.
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