In its first year, the Intermontaine Challenge mountain bike stage race will be offering equal prize money for men and women - not only for the winners, but for all the places. Nonetheless, the race is still hoping to attract a stronger women's field.
"We're a little surprised we don't have more women so far considering that we are doing the equal prize money," said promoter Chuck Brennan. "However, I'm dedicated to keeping the prize standard for 2010 for sure. We'll see how it goes after that."
The decision to award equal prize money came, in a way, through Brennan's wife. "I saw inequality in race prize money. I saw that the men earned about 10 times as much as the women. My wife was standing beside me at one point and said, 'That's bullsh*t!'. "The last time I checked a woman has to train just as hard as a man to get to the top. And many of them aren't far behind the top men."
Brennan is the first to admit it's not a great time to start a new stage race - despite the format's popularity. "We probably picked the worst year," he said, referring to the ongoing global recession. However, given time, he's hoping the race will become established in its late-July time slot. This year's event is set for July 27-31.
The race will follow a clover-leaf format with all stages starting and finishing in the same town of Kamloops. The course will run through a semi-arid setting, similar to Colorado, according to Brennan.
The Intermontaine Trail Legacy Society is overseeing trail management and development for the race. "We have tons of trails, but just about all of them are illegal - often on private land. There's no arrangement between landowners and the cycling community."
"This year's race will be on existing trails that we're getting permission to use. Down the road, in four or five years, we'll likely still be dealing with existing trails."
Many of the trails are established trails that have fallen out of use. "Going back 30-40 years, there was hardcore dirt biking use. Then motorized uses were eliminated. The best mountain bike trails on the planet are often made by dirt bikes, especially on the kind of soil we have here. We have lots of miles of existing, abandoned trails. Some need work, some are good to go."
The non-profit Intermontaine Trail Legacy Society hopes to open up 500km of trail. "It will balance access with maintenance. We're just at the beginning of the journey - the race is the first step. After the race we'll go back to the landowners and get their perspective." Brennan hopes to open some of the race's trail to recreational riding independent of the race.
"We'll try to open an arrangement that's not just about the racing," he said.
Brennan expects the course to change from year to year. He intends to alter two stages per year for the next few years.
Some riders have already committed to the race. Team MonaVie-Cannondale is bringing up to eight riders, among them Tinker Juarez, Jeremiah Bishop and Sue Butler. Canadian Seamus McGrath (Jamis) will also be attending as will former local Chris Sheppard, who now lives in Bend.
"We have 115 racers now, and we hope to pick up another 15 or 20," said Brennan. Currently 56 solo men and 13 solo women are pre-registered.
For more information, visit www.intermontanechallenge.com.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.