Team RadioShack recently announced that it will field three riders including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong at the 24th SRAM Tour of the Gila held from 28 April-2 May in Silver City, New Mexico.
"Not only do the state and the local fans embrace this race, but the terrain, competition, and timing is perfect," said Armstrong. "We are looking forward to taking the start in Silver City, it's a great event. It is also a great opportunity to ride with our U23 squad [Trek Livestrong] and check in on their development."
Armstrong's presence at the National Racing Calendar (NRC) ranked event is expected to bring full crowds to the small high-desert town. Silver City is located in Grant County and has a population of 10,500.
"Lance Armstrong was tweeting to 800 thousand [followers] last year and I hear that he now has over two million on his twitter account," said Richard Eds from the New Mexico Tourism Department.
"We estimated that the race and the state received about $400,000 to $500,000 in magazine, website and electronic media coverage and much of that was due to Team Astana being in the race last year," he added. "We certainly welcome them back this year, as the Tour of Gila is the biggest event of the year for Grants County."
The Team RadioShack trio includes last year's overall race winner Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong who placed second and Jason McCartney.
International Cycling Union (UCI) code 2.1.009 prohibits ProTour teams from competing in nationally ranked events. However, they are permitted to register three riders wearing non ProTour team clothing. Therefore, the three racers will compete in clothing labelled after Armstrong's Austin-based bike shop Team Mellow Johnny's.
"Lance Armstrong and Team Astana competing in the Tour of the Gila last year meant thousands of dollars in extra media coverage and increased the visibility of this event, and thus New Mexico, many fold," Eds said. "Hotels and restaurants were happy to have Lance and the team in town and will be equally excited this year to have Lance, Levi and RadioShack in the race again."
Armstrong, Leipheimer and McCartney will race the five-stage event over 544 kilometres and 25,231 feet of climbing as a lead-in to the Amgen Tour of California held from 16-23 May.
"This is really cool, could not be happier about the direction of our race, the fact that Levi and Lance are coming back, and that the fields are stacked with North America's best riders," said Race Director Jack Brennan. "This will be a showcase of talent."
For full coverage of the Tour of the Gila, visit Cyclingnews.com.