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Women's stage race added to Merco Cycling Classic

The women's field prepares to depart on thirty two laps of the downtown criterium course.

The women's field prepares to depart on thirty two laps of the downtown criterium course. (Image credit: Wil Matthews)

After a successful introduction into a four-day stage race in the spring of 2011 for the elite men's event, the Merco Cycling Classic presented by Mercy Medical Center announced that the women's Pro/1-2 event for 2013 will change from a three-day omnium to a four-day stage race, to be called the Dignity Health Medical Group Merced Women’s Stage Race.

The women's four-day race takes place in Merced, California from February 28-March 3, the same dates as the men's race. It had originally been anticipated that women's racing at the 2013 Merco Cycling Classic would be restricted to omniums on stages 2, 3 and 4, but thanks to additional sponsorship, event director Doug Fluetsch was able to proceed with the organisation of a concurrent four-day women's stage race.

"We knew Alicia Bohlke and Dignity Health Medical Group Merced were interested in our event in terms of sponsorship but there wasn't a great fit until the opportunity of the women's stage race evolved," Fluetsch explained. "Dignity Health Medical Group Merced recruits new physicians to our new, state of the art hospital, Mercy Medical Center. So the fit with our presenting sponsor is fantastic. Without their support we would not be able to offer what we are."

Fluetsch is aiming to put together a field of some 75 riders for the inaugural running of the women's stage race at the Merco Cycling Classic, something he believes would provide a platform for the consolidation of the event in the years to come. Registration for the race opens next week.

"The women's stage race will be considered a success if we can attract a quality field of 75 athletes which would then allow us to plan on expansion of the women's event in the future, which is something truly needed for women's cycling today," he said. "We are fortunate to be able to do this."

The addition of the women's stage race is a timely one, as the Merco Cycling Classic – which began life as the two-day McLane Pacific Cycling Classic – celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013. The men's race extended to its current four-day format in 2011, something Fluetsch maintains is proof of the local pride the race has fostered in Merced.

"20 years ago I would have never envisioned what a race like this would mean to our community and I am genuinely proud of what we have become," Fluetsch said. "The expansion of the Merco Cycling Classic at a time when cycling events and teams are feeling the effects of the struggling economy as well as the challenges cycling as a sport is facing is a testament to what this event means to the community of Merced and central California."

The guest speaker at the 2013 champions' dinner, which takes place after stage 1, will be Davis Phinney, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Davis Phinney Foundation.