Americans sweep the USA Pro Cycling Challenge

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If you've been following the USA Pro Cycling Challenge as closely as the hundreds of thousands of fanatics who came out last week for the prologue and six stages of the race to make it the largest spectator crowd for any stage race in U.S. history, then it probably isn't news by now to note that Levi Leipheimer of Team Radio Shack won it, or that Americans swept the podium and took the top five spots in the race. And you probably won't be surprised that plans are already afoot to make it even bigger in 2012, either.

"We're excited for the state and for the communities we visited and passed through over the last week," reports Shawn Hunter, co-chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. "We will be back and we'll be even bigger next year."

Hunter estimates there were at least 250,000 spectators for yesterday's final stage (Golden to Denver) alone, and says overall attendance for the stage race far exceeded his prediction of at least one million cycling fans. Those numbers are big news for the communities that hosted the race and for the state itself: Cycling fans around the world just got a grand tour of the Rockies over the course of the 518-mile race, and race organizers have just begun to calculate the economic impact and longer-term tourism boost from the race.

Leipheimer, who says he grew up watching the Coors Classic races in Colorado 25 years ago and was duly inspired, suggests the real impact of the race will be in what it means to the next generation of American cyclists.

"It's hard to put into words and to describe the emotion and experience that I've had this week," said Leipheimer, in a statement released yesterday. "Today has been the biggest crowd that I've seen in the U.S., and that is really saying something. This race really raised the bar for American cycling. This victory means so much to me because of the way we raced this week. It took every ounce of energy and motivation we had to pull it off."

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