Overall winner Stevens inspired by Idaho's support
By all accounts, the inaugural Exergy Tour last week in Idaho exceeded the already high standard set by its predecessor, the Women's Challenge that ran through Boise from 1984 to 2002. Race spokesperson Heather Hill was confident the UCI 2.1 event will return again next year.
"In every conversation I have had with the team at Exergy Development Group, with James Carkulis, the CEO, his vision is absolutely the Exergy Tour will be back next year," Hill said after the race ended Monday. "The vision is to make the Exergy Tour the fourth major in North America, and it would be the only women's race in that line up. So that's the vision from here forward, and I hope that we can carry that through."
The race organizers had just six and a half months to put the inaugural event together, and Hill said she was excited by the prospect and possibilities of having an entire year to organize and plan the event for a 2013 return. Overall winner Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon), a veteran of some of the biggest women's races in the world, including her win at this year's Fleche-Wallone, said the Idaho tour was the best stage race she had ever taken part in.
"My teammates like Clara [Hughes] and Ina [Teutenberg] and Trixi [Worrack] have spoken so highly of their time in Boise and Idaho for the Women's Challenge that was here," Stevens said. "So I know we all came into it with pretty great hopes, but it exceeded all of our expectations."
Hughes, who took third overall this year and won the most aggressive jersey for her performance in the final stage, agreed with her younger teammate, adding that she was excited to see so many local residents enthusiastic about the race.
"If this is only the start of the Exergy Tour, I can't wait to see where it goes and how it grows in the coming years," she said. "[Sunday] we started in Crouch, Idaho, population 150, and everyone in town was waiting to cheer us out of town. And every little campground we went by, everyone was out. It was just electrical."
The finale in Boise saw packed crowds at the start/finish area in Hyde Park, and the spectators lining the climbs on the circuit resembled those on Mt. Diablo in the recent Tour of California. Stevens said the atmosphere inspired the riders' performances, adding that she also received a marriage proposal along the route.
"At the first KOM you had guys in Speedos running alongside you," she said. "It was unreal. I mean I got up there and was like, 'Let's race our bicycles.' I think everyone brought out their best game. It was amazing."
Besides offering a $100,000 total purse, the enthusiastic welcome, an international field of world-class riders, and challenging courses that whittled that field down to just a third of the original starters, the organization went out of its way to make the competitors feel appreciated throughout the week. Hill said each night riders would receive custom gifts that highlighted local businesses with an Idaho flavor. Some of the gifts included a custom chunk of chocolate shaped like a stiletto shoe, a commemorative poster designed by local artist Ward Hooper and cake balls baked especially for each team and decorated in their kit colors.
"Tonight is a really unique gift," Hill told Cyclingnews Monday after the race. "We're putting on a private party for the athletes. It's an invitational team roping and saddle bronco riding rodeo event. We're having a steak and barbecue chicken dinner, kind of a true Idaho celebration, and we're providing each of the ladies with an Exergy Tour western belt buckle."
Hill said the race organizers and the sponsor were "very honored and humbled" by the caliber of athletes that turned out for a first-year event, and they want all of the athletes and teams to come back next year, and maybe even spread the word about the brand-new race. "We hope the riders all go back and say, 'Gosh, that's the one race we want to make sure is on our calendar next year.'"