With a cadre of some of the best women cyclists in the world as a backdrop, the organizers of the Exergy Tour on Wednesday proclaimed the official return of world-class bike racing to Idaho.
As typically schizophrenic Idaho spring weather rolled through the Treasure Valley, event organizers gathered some of the biggest names participating in the inaugural professional women's multi-stage race to answer questions from the press.
But before anyone could ask about strategy or the level of competition, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter took the stage with far more pressing news—all of the bikes stolen from Team TIBCO overnight had been recovered.
With that out of the way (which undoubtedly provided quite a sense of relief of TIBCO team members) organizers got on to touting the upcoming race.
Steve Johnson, CEO of USA Cycling called Exergy Tour "one of the biggest and most exciting races for women this year." It was a sentiment echoed by not only race officials, but by many of the riders who were excited for the chance to compete against some of the top names in the sport in the last event that can earn riders points toward the 2012 Olympics in London.
"These are some of the greatest women cyclists in the world," he said. "You don't have to go to London."
After being joined by Connie Carpenter, who famously won the road race gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in a near photo-finish with Rebbeca Twigg, it was time for the racers to take the spotlight.
Speaking through her translator, Mei-Yu Hsiao of Axman Team Taiwan said the level of competition had her both excited and nervous, although her nerves didn't prevent a little trash-talking when she added that her team is catching up with the rest of the field, so watch out.
Megan Guarnier of Team TIBCO and a member of the U.S. Olympic Long Team called Exergy the biggest race in the United States of her career, adding that the level of competition in Olympic years is even higher than usual.
Faren Honda Team member Nicole Cooke said it was that level of competition that drew her team to the race.
"[When we saw] the level they were going for ... we wanted to do it. [It's the] opportunity to race against the best riders in the world," she said.
"I can't overstate how important this race is," said Janel Holcomb, of Optum Pro Cycling and the 2011 NRC Champion, adding that she knows expectations are high for this event, but she believes all the athletes will deliver.
Of course, most of the attention was on hometown hero and defending Olympic gold medalist for the Individual Time Trial, Kristin Armstrong, who reflected on her career winding down in her home town.
"It's a unique opportunity," she said. "Ten years later [I'm] going to finish my career in my hometown."
Armstrong had retired from the sport after the 2008 Olympics, but returned not long after giving birth to her son. She joked about her return from retirement when asked about what legacy she will leave for other young Boise riders of the future.
"When I finally retire and don't pull another Brett Favre," adding that she hopes to be a role model and encourage others to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Armstrong added that's she's focusing on getting to the mental place that this isn't just another local race.
"It's not often that we get to experience a world-class experience in your hometown and getting to wake up in your own bed and roll down a road you train on," she said.
When asked if the weather would be a concern, Armstrong said the trick is to always be prepared, but quickly added, "We're all tough women."
Racing will get under way tomorrow evening in downtown Boise. The opening expo will kick off at 5:30 p.m. in Julia Davis Park with racing beginning at 6:30 p.m. Racers will travel along Capitol Boulevard to the Boise Train Depot, looping around it before returning to the park. The public is encouraged to come out to watch the racing as well as the events going on in the park.
The tour will continue throughout the weekend with racing on Friday, May 25, in Nampa, on Saturday, May 26, in Kuna and on Sunday, May 27, between Garden Valley and Idaho City before returning to Boise on Monday, May 28, for the final stage which begins and ends in Hyde Park.
Check the Exergy Tour website for full details, and check Cobweb throughout the weekend for more coverage.