One hundred women began what is said to be the toughest race in the world for women cyclists . . . 13 days, 650 miles, 12 stages, a total of 16,540 feet of uphills and about the same down.
And, this year, one more thing. The PowerBar International Women's Challenge is, to the riders, the ultimate Olympic tune-up.The event started Tuesday in Idaho. It will make three stops in Utah - Saturday in Orem, Sunday in Park City and Monday in Logan.
It is not a start-to-finish race, but a blend of road races, circuit races, criteriums and time trials.
The Orem even will be a circuit race around Utah Valley State College. Riders will race 50 miles. Start time is 2 p.m.
The Park City event will be a road race from Midway to the center of town. It will cover 66 miles, have an elevation change of about 2,500 feet and will start at 11 a.m.
The Logan race, too, is a road race. It will go from Logan to Montpelier, Idaho. It will start at noon.
The event will test the stamina and resolve of some of the world's best cyclists, among them three Utah riders.Kelly Crawford is team captain of the Bingham/Utah Pipe Trades Cycling Team. She is a 34-year-old respiratory therapist from Ogden. This is her third year competing in this event. Her teammate, Kris-Green Walker is a 35-year-old resident physician at the McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.
The third Utahn is Heather Hall Albert from Pleasant Grove, a member of the PowerBar In-Training team.
There will be seven members of this year's U.S. Olympic team entered: Linda Brenneman, Alison Dunlop, Julie Furtado, Laura Charameda, Dede Demet, Jeanne Golay and Rebecca Twigg. Demet won this event in 1995, Golay in 1993 and Twigg in 1984, the inaugural event, and again in 1985 and 1986.
Also entered is 1992 Olympic road racing champion Kathy Watt of Australia.
Other countries represented are Russia, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belgium, Great Britain, Slovakia, South Africa and Switzerland.
In the opening event on Tuesday, Watt set the pace on the 1.7-mile all-uphill course with a time of seven minutes, 9.68 seconds. Second was Rasa Polikeviciute of Lithuania in 7:14.67 and third was Rebecca Bailey, a member of the New Zealand Olympic team.
Crawford was 90th in 9:06, Walker was 42nd in 8:07 and Albert was 41st in 8:06.
In the second event on Wednesday, Karen Livingston of Gainesville, Fla., beat Brenneman to the finish by less than the span of a bike wheel.
Livingston said the two threw their bikes across the finish, "and I guess I just threw mine harder."
U.S. Olympic cyclists finished second, third and fourth. The Lithuanian Olympic team also placed three riders in the top 10.
After two days, Watt was the overall leader, Brenneman was the mountain leader, Golay was the sprint leader and Charameda was the overall points leader.
Wednesday's race was 40-mile stage from Boise to Idaho City.
Thursday's race is a 60-mile stage from Stanley to Ketchum, Idaho.
The event was started in 1984 by Jim Rabdau. It featured five stages and covered 161 miles. Twigg won the event over a field of 52 riders. Each year the race was lengthened and the field enlarged.
Last year there were 12 stages over 11 days, covering a total of 533 miles, with a vertical rise of 15,537 feet.