The 2008 American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania Presented by Highmark Healthy High 5 (wow that’s a mouthful) starts today. Wicked wind, steamy temperatures and plenty of challenging terrain during the 6-day, 420-mile (676 km) stage race across Pennsylvania provides a chance for elite international cyclists under age 25 to show themselves off.
In his first year, this espoir race is going big. A total of $150,000 will be awarded in stage prizes, overall general classification and special competitions — according to the organizers it is the world’s large ever prize list for U25 riders. And even more amazing, the race is being televised on Versus: June 25-28 at 6PM ET and June 29 at 5:30PM ET.
The stages. The race starts in the morning of June 24 with a short 2.2-mile (3.5 km) prologue time trial, followed by an evening 25-mile criterium.
Expect the sprinter’s to rule day 2, a mostly flat 91-mile (146.4 km) run from Downingtown to Carlisle, which takes riders through the heart of Amish country where they’ll likely encounter Lancaster County’s distinctive horse-and-buggy transportation.
Stage 3 is when things begin to get serious. The 104-mile ride from Camp Hill to Bedford starts off easily for about 37 miles, with sprints in Carlisle and Chambersburg, before ascending the first of two mountain passes. The first KOM officially begins at mile 63, sending riders on a 3.5-mile climb to the top of Tuscarora Summit. The final KOM is at mile 82 at Sideling Hill – this climb is about 3 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,500 feet. After the KOM, the riders will descend at speeds of 50 mph, negotiating some very technical turns, plummeting down to the finish line in the town of Bedford.
The excitement will continue to build on day 4, when an already fatigued peloton takes on arguably the race’s toughest stage. The Queen stage is 60-mile (96 km) trek from Bedford to Latrobe will push the riders to their limits with two major climbs and wild descents. Climb No. 1 sends the field up and over the Allegheny Mountains by way of the Bald Knob Summit, a 5.5-mile grunt with grades nearing 15 percent. After a quick rolling descent, the course turns uphill again, this time taking on the Laurel Hill Summit, a 2-mile climb with 15-percent grades.
The 83-mile (46km) stage 5 gives the riders a more subdued ride as they enter into the City of Pittsburgh. The route will follow a mostly rolling course with one short KOM at mile 21 and one last intermediate sprint at mile 38 on the outskirts of Latrobe. The race will continue through Pittsburgh’s East End and into the City’s historic South Side with a sprint finish at the headquarters of title sponsor American Eagle Outfitters. Spectators should be prepared for a thrilling, four-corner city neighborhood sprint finish.
The Tour of Pennsylvania culminates with stage 6, a classic criterium in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. The riders will race 33 laps on a four-corner 1.5-mile course to give locals a great chance to see the future of American criterium racing.
The teams. Field of 108 riders from 18 teams lined up for Tour of PA. One of the strongest team, on paper, is the Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast led by Nature Valley stage winner David Veilleux. He will be joined by sprinting duo Jake Keough and Keven Lacombe and US 2007 Junior Road Race Champion Ben King. The second US Professional Espoir team is Time Pro Cycling, led by reigning under-23 national time trial champion Nick Frey. Joining Frey is Eric Barlevav, winner of the USA Crits Skyscraper Harlem Cycling Classic.
Nine US Elite Amateur Espoir teams are present. Arizona’s Team Waste Management-Racelab U23, the Jelly Belly feeder team, is led by Kiel Reijnen the top amateur and 10th overall at mid-June’s Nature Valley Grand Prix.
The California Giant Berry Farms-Specialized team is led by Max Jenkins, winner of the under-23 road race at last year’s U.S. national championships, and fresh off a stint with the U.S. national team where he spent two and a half weeks racing in Europe. Jenkins also had a very strong showing at Mt Hood.
The No. 1 ranked amateur team in the 2007, Fiordifrutta will be led by Jamey Driscoll and the always aggressive Phil Gaimon. California-based ZteaM which has Frankie Andreu directing in the team car will be led by climbers Stefano Barberi and Nate English.
Colorado’s VMG-Felt will be captained by all-rounder Peter Stetina and includes criterium expert Dan Holloway. Also in the team is Alex Howes who has been racing with a top French Amateur squad VC La Pomme and just returned to the US to participate in the race. The squad will be directed by former U.S. Postal Service pro Chann McRae.
The Sakonnet Technology U25 Team, who recently helped secure a U.S. spot for the Tour de l’Avenir, will be led by Ryan Baumann, who was the top under-23 rider at last year’s Tour of Virginia and won this year’s 80th running of the Cross Country Cycling Classic in Belize.
Team VRC:NOW-MS Society is a Los Angeles-based not-for-profit club that’s focused on under-25 rider development. The squad includes fast finisher Nick Martinez and climbing specialists Adrian Gerrits and Alex Welch.
Home state team PA Lightning should benefit from intimate knowledge of the course. The squad, guest directed by Michael Hernandez, will be led by former junior national champions Taylor Brown and Michael Chauner.
One of two Pennsylvania-based teams in the field, the Penn State Cancer Institute-GPOA-Cannondale team will be led multi-time collegiate national champion and former captain of the Sakonnet Technology team Chris Kuhl.
Completing the field are the 7 International teams. The only South American squad, Argentina’s Esco-Telefonicos brings a climber-heavy roster that includes Gustavo Borcard, the reigning under-23 Argentinean national road champion.
The Australian squad, Praties Cycling Team, includes time trial specialist Ben Norton and Richie Porte, a former triathlete who scored an impressive 9th-place overall finish at this year’s ProTour rated Tour Down Under.
Steven Van Vooren of the Johan Bruyneel Cycling Academy will likely be among the top European threats for the overall Pennsylvania title. The Belgian won the climber’s jersey at the recently run Volta a Galicia. Van Vooren’s Pennsylvanian teammate Jim Camut could also be a factor. He won the under-23 competition at the same Spanish pro-am event.
Canada’s Team RACE Pro, directed by Steve Bauer, will be led by all-around riders Mark Pozniak and Joel Dion-Poitras.
South Africa’s Konica Minolta will look to make its mark in the flat stages with fast men Christoff Van Heerden and Herman Fouche, who are both highly capable sprinters.
The last two international teams are the Dutch Global Cycling squad and the German Team Stadler.