The National Racing Calendar's (NRC) International Tour de Toona is set to host a six-day stage race for Pro-Cat 1 men and Pro-Cat 1, 2 women, to be held July 5-10 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Race organizers are pleased to bring back the prestigious multi-day event after a three-year hiatus.
"We are hoping for the top men's and women's fields to come back and race the Tour de Toona," said Pam Etters, Program Director. "We tried to make sure that it was a competitive purse once again and that is a big draw for the teams to participate in our race. We've had a lot of interest from the men's teams and we want to focus on and highlight the women's teams."
The stage race began in 1987 but after nearly two successful decades it was forced to reduce to a one-day criterium in 2008. The criterium was cancelled completely in 2009 due to a lack of funding. Race organizers tried to bring the full stage race back last year, but it was unable to take flight and was again reduced to a criterium.
"We need to regain some of the trust in the cycling world," Etters said. "We've reorganized some of our community and have brought fresh members on board. This year we were able to really organize the committee and come together to pull off the event. We understand that there are a little bit of nerves as to whether or not the race is on, and we can confirm that it is definitely on."
This year race organizers secured funding for the six-day event and it was added to the NRC schedule at the beginning of the season. However, local police were hesitant to support the event due to severe budget cuts. According to Etters, the organization and the local police were able to reach an agreement and the race will continue with full police support.
"We did have a little bit of an issue with the police because of the budget cuts," Etters said. "They were concerned about how they were going to pull off the support for the race this year. They have done this for us every single year, pro bono, and do not charge us for their support. We had to sit down and talk to them and explain the value of our event and they agreed to come back on board and lead the race for us again this year. They are back on board 100 percent and the race is 100 percent on, for sure, as a six-day event."
The event has a long-standing history of highlighting the women's Pro-Cat 1, 2 event and offers equal prize money and race distances as the men's field. The total prize purse for the event in 110,000USD, split evenly between the men's and women's categories.
"Our women always get paid an equal purse to the men," Etters said. "We pay equally for men and women for the entire week. They will also race the exact same distances and courses. We want to highlight the women because we want them to be on an equal playing field with the men and we want to make sure that they are held to the same standards as far as the courses. That is what makes our race special for women, we give them the same amount of money for the same amount of work."
The six-day race will begin on July 5 with a 4.8km individual time trial in downtown Altoona. It will continue on July 6 with stage one's 100km circuit race held in Hollidaysburg. On July 7, stage two will offer both fields a brand new 116.8km course with a mountaintop finish on the famed Blue Knob ascent. On July 8, the race will continue with stage four's 122.8km circuit race held in Martinsburg. On July 9, the stage five road race will start and finish in Altoona for a total of 147.5km and will also include the ascent over Blue Knob. The race will conclude on July 10 at the Downtown Altoona Criterium, where both fields will complete for a total of 56km.
"The courses are very similar, with one new stage and a mountaintop finish, which is very exciting," Etters said. "The total elevation gain is 1650ft and it is quite a challenging stage. Saturday's stage is the longest race and will also be very challenging."
Race organizers will also host a three-day race for men's categories 2, 3, 4 and 5 and women's categories 3 and 4 held from Friday, July 8 to Sunday, July 10.