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Taking the Tour of Pennsylvania

| Friday, March 21, 2008

Last year's winner of the Tour de France, Alberto Contador, won't be racing in the American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania this summer.

Neither will Levi Leipheimer, the top American rider in last year's Tour de France who finished third in the race.

But you could see the next Contador, Leipheimer or maybe even Lance Armstrong in this summer's inaugural race from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.

The 450-mile, six-day stage race is the first Espoir race -- or race for elite cyclists 24-and-under -- in the United States. The event, which takes place June 24-29 and is one of the highlights of Pittsburgh's 250-year anniversary celebration, will draw some of the best young cyclists in the world.

"These are the guys who are going to be in the Tour de France three-to-four years from now or the Olympics in 2012," said Dave Chauner, president of Pro Cycling Tour and the executive race director. "This type of race is a stepping-stone into the pro ranks, so what you find is a lot of really exciting racing; very competitive, no-holds barred kind of stuff, whereas professional racing is a little more controlled. These are all young riders who are trying to prove themselves and looking at this as an opportunity to showcase what they can do."

The race will feature 20 teams chosen from more than 60 applicants and likely will be split between European and U.S. teams. Included among the domestic teams will be the Pennsylvania Lightning, a developmental team from the commonwealth formed last year and based in the east.

Chauner said there could be a team from Pittsburgh, as well.

The selection process is based on age, the amount of international experience, the accomplishments of individual racers and having the right complement of cyclists to compete in a six-day stage race, including sprinters and climbers.

Of the 16 races in North and South America on the international racing calendar, 11 are in the United States with five competed in Pennsylvania, including the Tour.

One of the key parts in planning the first-ever stage race across the state was picking the route.

"You have to not only pick areas of historic significance, which is sort of what we started with, but we have to make sure that the route has the right mix of terrain over the six days of the event," Chauner said. "You don't want every day to be climbing or every day to be flat. The beauty of Pennsylvania is that it's got such varying terrain that we can really create a good mix of stages."

The route will recognize the historic significance of the Forbes Trail, created by George Washington and John Forbes to open passage between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Chauner said the event is expected to pump $20 million-$25 million into the economy.

The race also will be televised on cable network Versus and draw international attention to the state and region.

"It's tremendous," said Chris Popovic, president of the Allegheny Cycling Association. "We're very lucky to have this event here. There are very few races with people from Europe coming to the United States to race. You really don't see that very often. To have it in a youth setting is even more extraordinary."


Tour of Pennsylvania

The first American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania will occur June 24-29. The Espoir event - espoir means hope in French - will feature the top cyclists 24-and-under from all over the world and will span 450 miles between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Here are the six stages:

Stage 1 - Prologue individual time trial (1.5 miles); Philadelphia Criterium (30 miles)

Stage 2 - Downingtown to Carlisle (91 miles) road race

Stage 3 - Camp Hill to Bedford (105 miles) road race

Stage 4 - Bedford to Latrobe (87 miles) road race

Stage 5 - Ligonier to Pittsburgh (85 miles) road race, ending with circuit on South Side

Stage 6 - Pittsburgh circuit race (50 miles)

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