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updated: 8/3/2012 1:41 PM

Tour of Elk Grove draws top international cycling teams

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  • Riders dive into the right angle turn onto Victoria Avenue from Elk Grove Boulevard during the Pro Women's Stage 2 Road Race on the second day of the Tour of Elk Grove.

      Riders dive into the right angle turn onto Victoria Avenue from Elk Grove Boulevard during the Pro Women's Stage 2 Road Race on the second day of the Tour of Elk Grove.
    Bob Chwedyk/File


Hundreds of cyclists -- including elite teams from throughout the Midwest, nation and world -- will converge on Elk Grove Village starting today for the seventh Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove.

The internationally acclaimed cycling event features 16 professional and amateur races held on village streets through Sunday.

"We've got 715 racers already," with many more expected to sign up on race day, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said earlier this week. "Almost half the riders sign up the day of the event. It's the best field we've ever had, for men and women."

He expects the races also will draw 8,000 to 10,000 spectators.

The Tour's spotlight event this year is the three-stage, three-day Men's Pro Race, which earned the highest racing designation -- 2.1 ranking -- from Union Cycliste Internationale, the world governing body for sports cycling. Only five cycling races in the country have this designation, Johnson said.

The race is restricted to UCI-ranked teams who are invited to participate. No individual riders are allowed and there has to be a minimum of five and maximum of eight professional riders per team.

The 2011 Tour of Elk Grove men's overall champion, Cuban-born Luis Amaran, is returning to defend his title this year with the elite Jamis/Sutter Home Pro Cycling team.

Amaran, 32, who spoke through his team director Sebastian Alexandre, said he is in great form after winning the time trial at the Cascade Classic in Oregon two weeks ago.

Amaran has been racing for 16 years and raced with the Jamis/Sutter team in South America and Spain this year.

"You have to earn the invitation so we are very proud to be back (in Elk Grove)," Alexandre said. "This was one of the races that he targeted for the season. The way the race is flat, it's very technical. It's a mix between criterium and road race. This is one of the best races in the U.S."

However, there are some teams that participated last year that cannot participate this year because of the change in ranking, Johnson said.

The men's pro race field has 105 riders. The overall prize purse dropped from $110,000 last year to $50,000 this year. That's because the village is required to offer housing for elite teams, and pay for airfare, transportation and meal costs with the higher UCI ranking, Johnson said.

"All these top teams, they get a certain amount of benefits racing and that's all dictated by UCI," Johnson said. "All these pros are paid employees. They have contracts. The purse is nice, but they are not racing for the money. They are racing for UCI points ... and it helps the riders when they go out for contracts for next year."

For the village, there's also the additional expense of putting on a UCI-sanctioned event such as the cost of bringing in international officials to observe the race, he said.

The overall budget for the Tour is little more than $500,000. The costs are covered by the village's 1 percent hotel/motel tax, sponsorship fees and race entry fees.

Because of the changes in the pro race, the total prize purse for all races has dropped from $150,000 last year to more than $83,000 this year.

Among the other races, the women's pro three-stage, three-day race has garnered much attention since it was introduced last year.

Race officials decided to increase the total prize money for that race from $15,000 to nearly $21,000 -- the only purse to increase this year. The race is on the National Racing Calendar of USA Cycling, the sanctioning body for competitive cycling in the U.S.

Roughly 80 women cyclists are expected to participate.

"We're going to have the biggest field ever for the women's pro race," Johnson said. "Olympian women are coming over to our race."

One Olympian Elk Grove tried hard to lure was Kristin Armstrong, who won a gold medal for the U.S. Wednesday at the London Olympics. Armstrong had other commitments due to her Olympic win and had to be in London for the closing ceremonies, Johnson said.

Defending women's overall champion Leah Kirchmann, who is racing with the Optum Pro Cycling team, said there aren't as many international teams as in the men's race because the women's race is not UCI-sanctioned.

Yet, Kirchmann, 22, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is excited about the prospect of racing against some of the top women cyclists in North America and against the Columbian national team, which is participating.

"It's still a big race for our team," said Kirchmann, who won a silver medal at the Pan American Championships in Argentina in March and placed second at the Exergy Tour UCI stage race in Boise, Idaho, in May. "Personally, I love the courses. I think it's a really well-organized event. I don't know if they are planning to go UCI. At the moment, I'm really happy that they have it."

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