DENVER - Top-level international bicycle racing will return to Colorado next summer after a 23-year hiatus.
Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong announced Wednesday that a seven-day race, called the Quiznos Pro Challenge, will happen Aug. 22-28, 2011.
"I can tell you the European riders - the best European riders - will be lined up to come to this event," Armstrong said.
Colorado has not hosted a major professional bike tour since the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic/Coors Classic, which ran from 1976 to 1988.
Armstrong, who lives part-time in Aspen, said he got the "wacky idea" to revive the race on a training ride last year. He pitched the idea to Gov. Bill Ritter, who is an avid cyclist.
Ritter and Armstrong made the announcement Wednesday at the state Capitol to a crowd of hundreds, many who wore bike jerseys and took a ride with Armstrong after the announcement.
Organizers have not chosen a race course yet. It will likely begin or end in Denver. The remaining host cities will be announced in the coming months, said Joe Moller, general manager of the race.
Southwest Colorado would be a perfect place to take the tour, said Ed Zink, organizer of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
"Certainly it's very exciting news, and communities like Durango that have a well-established cycling infrastructure should be able to help," Zink said.
Several Colorado towns have experience with major cycling events, and they can recruit volunteers to staff the race, Zink said.
"I think we can help mobilize the resources in Durango if this corner of the state is chosen as part of the route. And it should be," Zink said.
The renewal of the race will be a boost for American cycling, said Steve Johnson, head of USA Cycling.
"Future American champions will be on podiums around the world because they saw this event come through their hometown," Johnson said.
USA Cycling and the International Cycling Union (UCI) - the same organization that handles the Tour de France - will sanction the Colorado race.
The Colorado race will be a UCI Category 1 event, meaning it will attract the top international teams, Johnson said.
The Denver-based sandwich chain Quiznos will be the main sponsor. Additional funding will come from the Colorado Tourism Office, Ritter said.
"We think the tourism office (spending) is absolutely defensible given the kinds of tourism opportunities that will be because of this race," Ritter said.
The Colorado Tourism Office has not set a budget for the event yet, said spokeswoman Carly Grimes.
A Quiznos spokeswoman did not say how long the sponsorship contract would last.
"Our intention is to make this absolutely a long-term event," said Ellen Kramer, chief communications officer for the restaurant chain.
The Colorado race is one of just two elite-level stage races scheduled for next year in the United States. The other one is the Tour of California.
Colorado has "certainly some of the best geography anywhere in the world for cycling," Ritter said.
The defending champion of the Coors Classic, Davis Phinney, attended Wednesday's announcement. Phinney and his wife, Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter, helped Ritter make plans to create the race.