The professional men and women will have a new race in 2015, the Tour of Montana, which will run from July 16 to 19 in Missoula next summer. The Women's Cycling Association (WCA)-branded event will include one mass-start ride and three days of professional racing that includes equal prize money, equal sponsored media coverage and racing on the same courses for men and women.
The multi-day event started through the collaboration of WCA President Robin Farina, Race Director Kurt Stockton, and Executive Director Nicole Adamson. The event includes four separate days of racing registered through USA Cycling, however, none of the races will be a part of the National Racing Calendar or the National Criterium Calendar, and they are not sanctioned UCI events.
"One of the goals the WCA had from its inception was to develop a series of events in which men and women were competing equally, much the way professional tennis tournaments are structured," Farina said. "The Tour of Montana is an event created from scratch with this goal in mind, and one that we can use in creating future events."
The event will start with a team time trial on July 16 in downtown Missoula. Stockton recognized that not all teams are equipped to compete in a team time trial but he is hoping that men's Continental teams and women's UCI teams will use it as a rare opportunity to test their team time trial skills in a race setting ahead of the event held at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia in September.
"We will do an invitational-type team time trial, so some teams will compete in the road race and the criteriums but aren't necessarily prepared to race an event like a team time trial," Stockton said. "We want to give all of our domestic teams a chance to practice team time trailling, especially our women's teams, who are looking to race the team time trial in Richmond."
The racing will continue on July 17 with a circuit race held on an 11-kilometre course that starts downtown and heads to the south end of the city before looping back up to the city centre.
"We located a pretty cool circuit for the women and men," Stockton said. "It will have punchy, steeper climbs on the circuit, on the south end of town. The climbing will be closer to the finish of the circuit to make for much more exiting racing."
July 18 will be the last day of professional racing at a downtown criterium, where Stockton said there will be races for all categories throughout the day. The professional women's and men's events will be held at twilight.
The riding doesn't stop there, however, as organizers will close the Tour of Montana with The Big Ride, a mass-start event held on July 19 for the whole community to get involved.
Stockton is hoping to attract the domestic Continental teams and UCI women's teams because the race sits between Boise Twilight Criterium and the Cascade Cycling Classic, and is held two weeks before the Tour of Utah.
"We wanted to make this as easy as possible for the teams," he said. "It also puts us just a couple of weeks before the start of the Tour of Utah. Eventually we want to have a UCI stage race, so placing our event on the calendar properly was a big part of that."
Although they have decided to begin with a four-day event, their long-term plan is to elevate the Tour of Montana into a multi-day UCI tour similar to the Tour of Utah and the Tour of California.
"Our short-term goals would be to go UCI for a single event, or for a couple of single events, within the next three years after 2015, with a bigger plan to have a statewide tour," Stockton said. "There are two national parks and 16 state parks in Montana, so there are a lot of amazing roads and scenic areas.
"The reality of it is that we need to start small an build infrastructure before we do that."
The Tour of Montana has the support of the Montana Board of Tourism and the City of Missoula, and has secured financial commitments from a series of companies, however, Stockton noted that they are still working on securing a title sponsor.
"We are still in the process of getting all of our sponsors lined up," he said. "We have several sponsors in the region that have pledged their support to the event. We still do not have a title sponsor to announce, yet. We are in discussions with several companies."
The Tour of Montana will not only showcase professional bike racing but also include community-driven activities through the Montana Bicycle Festival and 100 days of festivities ahead of the bike race, much like the Yorkshire Festival that was held before the Grand Départ for the 2014 Tour de France.
The festivities will start in April and include a bike parade, a bike film festival, an all women's ride and more. "We wanted the community to take part in the ownership of the event, and to get involved and excited about it," Stockton said.