Cycling: Prutour aims to attract top competitors

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With a pounds 100,000-plus prize fund aimed at luring Tour de France strength competition, the nine-day Prutour was launched yesterday, filling a gap left four years ago by the loss of two major British races.

Chris Boardman was the first to sign up for the 23 to 31 May race from Stirling to the London home of the sponsors, the Prudential. "With the Tour de France five weeks later, the Prutour is perfect preparation for me and its timing should encourage some of the biggest teams to come," he said.

The Prutour controller, Alan Rushton, is already negotiating with the world's top 10 professional teams who form the bulk of the Tour de France challenge. He plans that the 18 teams, each comprising six riders, will also include squads from Olympic countries. The pounds 100,000 prize fund is the biggest ever offered in British cycling.

Boardman has his ambitions for the Prutour. "It is a big responsibility riding before your home crowd, but I will be trying to win."

Prudential, who will sponsor it for four years, are also backing an international women's race on the final day over a one-mile circuit starting and finishing outside their Holborn offices. That also will be the course for the last stage of the Prutour, which will cover more than 830 miles.

British cycling was left without a major stage race after Kellogg's ended its backing of the professional tour of Britain in 1994 - a year after the Milk Race ceased following a 36-year sponsorship.

PROTOUR ITINERARY: 23 May: Stirling: Prologue time trial (2.6 miles). 24 May: Edinburgh to Newcastle-upon-Tyne (130 miles). 25 May: Gateshead to York (112 miles). 26 May: Manchester to Blackpool (111 miles). 27 May: Chester to Nottingham (100 miles). 28 May: Birmingham to Cardiff (124 miles). 29 May: Bristol to Reading (98 miles). 30 May: Chessington to Rochester (100 miles). 31 May: London: Circuit race (50 miles).

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