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Tour of Pennsylvania set to challenge espoirs

120 of the world's most talented under-25 riders will gather next week for the inaugural American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania, and will face a challenging six day event. The course will traverse 420 miles of the state's roads, beginning in Philadelphia, the heart of Pennsylvania cycling and home of the famous Manayunk wall, and finishing in Pittsburgh to help celebrate that city's 250th anniversary.

The race will begin with an individual time trial prologue and evening criterium in Philadelphia before embarking on the trans-state journey.

"The number one goal was to trace the Forbes Trail as best we could," explained Jerry Casale, chief operating officer of Tour of PA, LLC, the company hired by Pittsburgh 250 to run this first-year event. "This is the same route George Washington and John Forbes used 250 years ago. Along the way we'll pass through a lot of the places that were founded that same year – Bedford, Ligonier, Latrobe. They are all celebrating their 250th and that was a very important aspect of designing this course."

The second day will be a mostly flat 91-mile run from Downingtown to Carlisle, will take riders through the heart of Amish country, while day three will hit the hillier terrain between Camp Hill and Bedford. The 104-mile route will include the race's first KOM sprint atop the 3.5-mile climb to Tuscarora Summit, followed by Sideling Hill, a 3-mile grind with 2,500 feet of elevation gain. From there it will be a mad dash to the finish, as riders hit speeds of 50 mph during the rapid descent to Bedford.

The fourth day will be a relatively short trip from Bedford to Latrobe, but the 60-mile stage will have plenty of climbing, making it one of the most difficult days of the Tour.

"What's going to make it tough is that within about the first 10 miles the climbing starts," explained Robin Zellner, the Tour of Pennsylvania's technical director. "That's the day that will reveal who the true climbers are. There are two major climbs in it, plus a couple of wild descents."

The stage will head over Bald Knob Summit, a 5.5-mile grunt with grades nearing 15 percent and Laurel Hill Summit, a 2-mile climb with 15-percent grades.

The final two stages include an 83-mile ride from Ligonier to Pittsburgh, and then a 50-mile criterium in the Steel City itself.

"Overall I think it's going to be a great course," concluded Chauner. "It will be challenging and I think you'll see a lot of attrition. It can be very hot in Pennsylvania that time of year, and there's also the chance for lots of headwind because we're going east to west most of the time. My prediction is that there will only be about 80-90 guys left at the finish."

For the top survivors, the payoff for pain will be a share of the $150,000 total prize purse, the richest in the world for an Espoir-class event.

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