Professional bicycle racers from China and Malaysia will get their first taste of bike racing in the U.S. this Spring at the SRAM Tour of the Gila.
Racing for Champion System Pro Cycling Team, a Hong Kong-based sports apparel company, this pro team of eight riders will help comprise what will arguably be the strongest field of contestants in the SRAM Tour of the Gila’s 26-year history. Riders from Belgium, Spain, Columbia, and Mexico will also be participating in the five-day stage race that starts on May 2nd.
“Both in terms of quality and geographic diversity of the riders, it really is a first for this race,” said Jack Brennan, a spokesman for the SRAM Tour of the Gila. ”The international composition of the field makes a statement about the growth of bike racing in the US in general, and the SRAM Tour of the Gila in particular.”
Champion won’t be the only pro-team dispatching world-class riders to the southwest New Mexico stage race. American powerhouse UnitedHealthcare intends to start Tour of Spain stage winner and US Olympian Jason McCartney, NRC winner Rory Sutherland, and climbing specialist Jeff Louder. Team Type 1 – Sanofi’s roster will include Swiss rider Rubens Bertogliati, a past Tour de France stage winner.
American-based Competitive Cyclist Racing Team plans to send Spaniard Francisco Mancebo, also a past stage winner of the Tour of Spain, and last year’s winner of the SRAM Tour of the Gila. Also on hand will be the Bontrager Livestrong development team, managed by former Euro Pro Axel Merckx. Bontrager Livestrong has won two stages in both the 2010 and 2011 editions of the race, and claimed the Points and Best Young Riders jerseys last year.
Brennan attributes the increased participation of international riders, in part, to the race’s recent designation as an international 2.2 stage race by the Union Cyclist International , the international governing body of professional bicycle racing. Thanks to this designation by the UCI, a more elite category of professional teams are now allowed to enter the race.
The result has been Pro Continental teams United Healthcare, Team Type 1, and Champion System finding their way to southwest New Mexico. And while the SRAM Tour of the Gila will be the first race on U.S. soil for the Chinese and Malaysian riders, Brennan is confident that they can hold their own.
“Earlier in the year, these guys raced in the Tour of Qatar,” said Brennan. ”That race might not have the stature of, say, the Tour de France, but some of the best riders in the world were at Qatar. If these guys can compete there, they’re going to make some noise here.”
In all, over 160 riders representing 20 different teams will start the pro race on May 2nd.
Pro Continental Teams
- Champion System Pro Cycling Team (China)
- Team Type 1 – Sanofi (USA)
- UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team (USA)
- BMC Hincapie Sportswear Development Team (USA)
- Bissell Cycling (USA)
- Bontrager Livestrong Team (USA)
- Competitive Cyclist Racing Team (USA)
- Ekoi.com – Gaspesien (Canada)
- Team Exergy (USA)
- Jamis/Sutter Home (USA)
- Kenda 5 Hour Energy p/b Geargrinder (USA)
- Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies (USA)
- California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized (USA)
- Colombian National Team (Columbia)
- Hagens Berman Cycling (USA)
- Jet Fuel Coffee (Canada)
- Juwi Solar Elite Cycling Team (USA)
- Landis/Trek (USA)
- Mexican National Team (Mexico)
- Team Rio Grande (USA)