BOISE, Idaho -- The inaugural Exergy Tour had barely ended Monday when the professional women cyclists that competed in the five-day stage race started lobbying for next year's event.
"I have to say this has been the best stage race I've ever partaken in," winner Evelyn Stevens said. "I'm excited to race it next year, so hopefully it's still here."
Said third-place finisher Clara Hughes: "I think everybody's hoping -- really, really hoping --that this is just the beginning."
The end was nearly perfect. After four days of rain (or the threat of rain), the weather cooperated on Memorial Day. Big crowds filled Boise's Hyde Park neighborhood and fans lined much of the 46.7-mile course.
Despite losing the Tour's biggest Idaho name when Boise Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong crashed and fractured her clavicle in Thursday's prologue, fans showed up to support the race.
"I'm not even riding right now and look at all the fans," Armstrong said before Monday's final stage began. "I definitely will be involved in years to come."
Stevens, who has won races all over the world this year, said the crowd before the final stage gave her goosebumps.
The biggest crowds were in Boise, but the attendance in Idaho City -- even with rain arriving a few minutes before the cyclists did at the finish -- impressed riders and organizers.
"I must say the ExergyTour was the best fan supported & attended women's cycling event I have been to in the last 10 yrs," Jim Miller, the vice president of athletics for USA Cycling, tweeted from his JimMillerUSAC account.
With a large $100,000 purse, an optimal date on the calendar for riders hoping to accumulate points and jockey for positioning for the 2012 London Olympics, and a rich heritage from the Women's Challenge race held in Idaho from 1985 to 2002, the Exergy Tour attracted some of the top riders in the world.
Even they were impressed.
Exergy TWENTY12 rider Tayler Wiles called it "the most incredible race I have ever been a part of."
"The word I'm hearing from the athletes directly is a big wow. You lived up to everything you said you were going to be with the Exergy Tour," said Heather Hill, the tour's communications and marketing director. "... Exergy's vision is to make the Exergy Tour the fourth major (cycling race) in North America. That would be the only women's race in that lineup. That's the vision from here forward."
Hill said organizers would need a few weeks to regroup after a frantic push to put on the tour, just seven months after deciding to do it. Among the decisions facing organizers: where on the calendar to place the event in a non-Olympic year and how long and in what cities to place next year's event.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter told the crowd before the final stage that "we're going to do all we can to keep this event in Boise and our whole area."
Hill said there is no question that Exergy will attempt to put on the race next year.
"Not in my mind," she said. "In every conversation I have had with the team at Exergy Development Group, with James Carkulis, the CEO, his vision is absolutely the Exergy Tour will be back next year.
"And it will be back bigger and better than ever."
Brian Murphy: 377-6444
(c)2012 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)
Visit The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho) at www.idahostatesman.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services