Organizers of the Tour of America bike race that will start Friday in Virginia Beach and end in Washington Sunday, already are planning to expand next year's race into a five- to seven-day event that will climb into the mountains of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, race promoters said yesterday.
The final roster for the 284-mile, $100,000 road race, announced at yesterday's press conference here, includes many of the world's top professional cyclists.
As expected, it does not contain the name of Bernard Hinault, four-time Tour de France winner who was barred from the U.S. race at almost the last minute by French racing officials. It also will not include Eric Heiden, the U.S. Olympic speed-skating gold medalist and cyclist who will be in Japan this weekend, nor Irish sprinter Sean Kelly and Dutch star Gerrie Kneteman, both badly injured in recent bike accidents.
French racing officials, copromoters of the Tour of America, announced last fall that Hinault would ride in the race, but last week apparently changed their minds, fearing his absence from Sunday's Paris-Roubaix race might undermine it.
"They feel threatened by our race, but they have guaranteed Hinault can come next year and he will fly over for the start of the race . . . to support it," said Robert Arrix, president of World Tour Cycling, which is promoting the race with the Tour de France.
The French offered to let Hinault race for one day in the Tour of America, "but we turned that down," Arrix said.
John Eustice, captain of one of four U.S. squads in the 15-team race, appeared at the press conference with two teammates to describe the race. He did it with difficulty, speaking through teeth and a jaw broken in a training ride last month.
The Virginia countryside is relatively flat and the race "will be fast, very fast . . . Peugeot probably will have the strongest team, but our Gios team, with Roger De Vlaeminck, is the sleeper," said Eustice, the top American rider in last year's U.S. professional championships in Baltimore.
The five-man French team sponsored by Peugeot, the auto and cycle manufacturer that is also the main sponsor of the Tour of America, is headed by Australian Phil Anderson, who took fifth place in last year's Tour de France.
Like most European road races, the American race will be primarily a team race, with slower riders pulling along the faster riders in their slipstreams and blocking for them, excepts for breakaways and sprints and the frantic finish.
Almost all teams in the race will be sponsored by commercial firms and most will include riders of different nationalities.
The U.S. pro team captained by Jonathan Boyer, the only American to race in the Tour de France, is sponsored and coached by Eddy Merckx, the legendary Belgian cyclist now, like Gios, a bike manufacturer. An all-American team, it also contains John Patterson, David Mayer-Oakes, Gary Doering and Paul Pearson of Bethesda.
A last-minute entry in the race is a U.S. amateur team, one of three now preparing young American riders for the Pan American Games this summer and the 1984 Olympics.
"For us, this is a fantastic opportunity to ride against the world's best professionals," said U.S. Army Capt. Bill Watkins, a team member stationed at Fort Belvoir.