After an absence of more than 50 years, international professional bicycle racing will return to the United States next spring, with strong support from France, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the National Park Service.
The three-day "Tour of America," which will start in Virginia Beach and end with 40 miles of racing in downtown Washington, will offer $100,000 in individual and team prizes and is expected to atttract some of the world's top racers, sponsors announced yesterday at a press conference at the District Building.
Six top European bike-racing teams, plus U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams, Colombian and Japanese teams and at least two teams of America's top cyclists will be invited to participate in the event.
The race will be jointly sponsored by the Tour de France, which has run the world's No. 1 bike race since 1903, and Capital Sports. Tour de France and Capital Sports own World Tour Cycling, which is organizing the event.
The National Park Service will be the official host of the race, to be run in 90-mile stages April 8, 9 and 10. The race will be modeled on the Tour de France (22 days, 2,200 miles and $350,000 in prizes for 175 riders). Tour de France Director Felix Levitan and top world racing organizers attended the press conference, as did Bernard Hinault, four-time Tour de France winner, and Jonathan (Jacques) Boyer, the only American to compete in the French race.
The 72 riders in 12 teams will pass through many of Virginia's historic towns and parks, ending in Williamsburg the first day, in Richmond the second and in Washington on the last leg. (The last stage will begin in Fredericksburg.)
Virginia, District and Park Service officials have been negotiating with the sponsors for almost a year. The event is seen as a boost to tourism and a whirlwind end to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
The Tour of America, and Baltimore's U.S. Pro Cycling Championship, which attracted huge crowds last June, are expected to make this area one of the nation's premier cycling centers.