Pro women cyclists grab attention at Tour
This year, for the first time, the Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove features a three-day, three-stage professional women's race that has drawn the largest number of elite women cyclists the race has ever seen, officials said.
The tour kicked off Friday with a record number of professional men and women cyclists participating in time trials as part of their three-day, three-stage criterium races.
The women displayed their mettle Saturday afternoon in the second stage -- a 50-minute circuit course that runs on the village's residential and commercial streets.
"This is the first year that the women's race has been a National Racing Calendar race," said Janel Holcomb, ranked first among women by the National Racing Calendar and a member of the Colavita team that took first and third place in Saturday's second stage race. "That's what gets the big teams to come here."
Both the women's and men's pro races are on the prestigious National Racing Calendar of USA Cycling, the sanctioning body for competitive cycling in the U.S.
Yet, the people are what brought Holcomb, whose maiden name was Spilker, back to the town where she was born and spent part of her youth.
"The people here are fabulous," said the 32-year-old woman, who now lives in San Diego. "And because it's a long-standing men's race, the fans know about the (tour) and come out for it. The fans are what make racing fun."
The men also finished their second stage, a 97-mile road racecourse, by late Saturday afternoon.
This year's men's pro race is sanctioned by Union Cycliste Internationale making the Tour of Elk Grove one of only six races in the United States to be recognized by the Switzerland-based world governing body overseeing international competitive cycling events.
The tour's overall prize purse is more than $150,000. The professional men's purse is $110,000, which is the largest for any three-day, three-stage race in the world. The women's purse is higher than it has ever been at $15,000.
Some cyclists believe the village should up the ante next year for the women.
"I hope to see a little bit more equality next year in the prize money between the men and women, just for respect," said 43-year-old Canadian cyclist Anne Samplonino of Boulder, Colo., Canada's national champion in time trial. "For the women's pro field, we have as many elite, world class women riders here as the men do on their start lines. I think we need to see that in the prize distribution."
Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said that's something race officials are working on.
"As in many sports, men's professionals are recognized a little higher," Johnson said. "In the past, we've had disappointing turnout" for women's races.
While initially 65 cyclists were registered for the women's pro race, a few dropped off and 52 participated in Friday's time trials. Forty-four women made it to the second stage race.
"I'm very happy with the turnout," Johnson said.
"Next year, there'll be a bigger purse, and what they want is longer stages" as with the men's race.
The tour, now in its sixth year, concludes today and will feature an adaptive athlete race at 10:30 a.m.; a children's Big Wheel race at 11:30 a.m.; a Village Trustees' Fun Ride at 11:10 a.m.; and the final stage of the women's and men's pro races at 1:45 and 3:15 p.m., followed by an awards ceremony. Information is at tourofelkgrove.com.