Races to watch in July, aside from the Tour de France

As one of the busiest cycling months of the year, July will feature plenty of bike races in addition to the Tour de France. Here is a look at 10 of the top road and mountain bike events in the coming weeks. Cyclingnews will be bringing you reports, photos and full results from these races and many more. Stay tuned throughout July.

Giro Donne: July 1-10

The 10-day long women's Giro d'Italia is the sole remaining major international stage race for women following the demise of the Tour de l'Aude, and like the men's edition of the Tour of Italy, the Giro Donne gets more challenging and more spectacular every year.

The race crested the Stelvio pass for the first time in 2010, and this year the challenge is the Mortirolo, the crest of which comes 115km into the 129km stage 7. Two hilltop stage finishes follow and the race concludes with a 16km time trial in San Francesco al Campo to complete a drama-filled event.

Last year's winner Mara Abbott, who showed she is one of the world's premiere climbers, will return to defend, even after suffering a concussion in training last month. But look out also for diminutive and powerful riders like Emma Pooley to rival for the famed maglia rosa.

Mountain Bike World Cups: July 1-3 & July 9-10

After early rounds in South Africa and Europe, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup heads to North America for two weekends of racing.

Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec, Canada, will host a triple World Cup on July 1-3 with round four of four cross, downhill and cross country action. The long-time venue, popular among riders, hosted the world championships in 2011. It's been the site of a World Cup or world championships each year since 1991.  Look out especially for Canadian riders like Catherine Pendrel (Luna), Marie Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain Maxxis), Geoff Kabush (Rocky Mountain Maxxis) and Steve Smith to make a stand against the World Cup favorites.

One weekend later, on July 9-10, racers will head south of the Canadian - American border for the next World Cup in Windham, New York. That's where round five of the downhill and cross country World Cups will happen. American standouts like Georgia Gould (Luna), Todd Wells (Specialized) and Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) are looking forward to racing the only World Cup on US soil.

It will be the second year that Windham is hosting the World Cup and although there were plans for a four cross round, too, they were dropped earlier this spring.  This round features opportunities for amateur downhill and cross country riders to race, too.

Tour of Qinghai Lake: July 1-10

This 10-day event on the Tibetan Plateau has always attracted plenty of European and American talent - past winners include Tom Danielson, Damiano Cunego, Maarten Tjallingii and Tyler Hamilton.

Since the formation of the UCI's Continental Tours, the race has been the prime hunting ground of the top Asian squads such as the Tabriz Petrochemicals team that won the past two editions.

Because it takes place at high altitudes, there is very little formulaic racing - impulsive riders go on the attack and explode spectacularly in the rarified air, while smart racers save their energies for the critical moments.

BC Bike Race: July 2-9

For the more endurance-oriented mountain bike racers, there is the BC Bike Race, a mountain bike stage race in British Columbia in Canada from July 2-9. The annual event is drawing not only the usual crop of fast, endurance-oriented North Americans, but also some European marathoners this time around. The extra competition from abroad should more than make up for the few absent World Cup racers who will be otherwise engaged in the eastern part of the continent.

Tour of Austria: July 3-10

The Tour of Austria is the consolation prize for teams which were not selected for the Tour de France or for riders who weren't chosen for their Grand Tour squad.

This year's event will feature Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov, whose Geox-TMC squad was left out of the Tour de France. It will be the first time in the Austrian Tour's history that Grand Tour champions will take the start.

The decisive stage comes on the second day when the race finishes atop the Kitzbüheler Horn, but the true test will be the 30.1km time trial on the penultimate stage in Podersdorf.

Defending champion Riccardo Ricco will not be returning, but with teams like Geox-TMC, HTC-Highroad, Radioshack, BMC, Sky, Astana, Leopard Trek and Saxo Bank Sungard, there will be no shortage of exciting overall contenders to cheer for.

Tour de Toona: July 6-10

The International Tour de Toona returns to the North American calendar after being mostly absent since 2007 (it was a one-day race in 2008). The four-stage event may be a shadow of its former glory, but the Altoona, Pennsylvania race includes the iconic Blue Knob mountain top finish, a 91-mile road race with steep climbs, a 3-mile prologue and the classic downtown Altoona criterium.

It is the only race in the USA in which men and women compete over equal distances and for an equal prize purse, which will mean strong fields for both genders. Already confirmed are US national champion Robin Farina and world omnium champion Tara Whitten as well as the Bissell and Pure Black Racing men's teams.

Mountain Bike National Championships Weekend: July 14-17

The third weekend in July is Mountain Bike National Championships weekend, the weekend designated by the UCI for the running of each nation's non-marathon mountain bike championship events.

Not every country follows the suggestion from the international federation, but at last count, 35 nations including the US, Canada and many European nations, will be participating with an assortment of cross country, short track and downhill titles up for grabs.

Cascade Cycling Classic: July 19-24

The USA's best men and women will assemble in Bend, Oregon to contest the 32nd annual Cascade Cycling Classic. Featuring a 2 mile prologue and another 16 mile time trial on stage 2, two summit finishes on stages 1 and 3 and a challenging circuit race and criterium, the race has something for everyone.

Last year's winners were Rory Sutherland and Mara Abbott, and we should see even more top talent at the race this year now that it is part of the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar.

Cyclingnews will be providing full coverage including reports from the race by Kirsten Frattini and photos by Jonathan Devich.

US Pro XCT: July 23

The US Pro XCT series will wrap up with its finals on July 23 in Missoula, Montana. It will be the first time Missoula has hosted a round of the US Pro XCT. The location could play to the favorite of local riders like Cyclingnews blogger Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek). Max Plaxton (Specialized) and Georgia Gould (Luna) are heading into the finals in the overall lead spots.

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