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Women's Pro Cycling Race Holds Promise For Boise

Sadie Babits
Boise State Public Radio

James Carkulis didn’t miss a single stage of this year’s inaugural Exergy Tour. But the CEO of Exergy Development Group did keep a low profile.

He never once talked publicly about his support for the race. “You know this wasn’t called the Women’s Challenge,” he explains. “And it wasn’t called the Tour of Boise or of the Treasure Valley. It was called the Exergy Tour.”

Instead, Carkulis let the name of the tour do the talking for him. It turns out that Carkulis has a thing for cycling. He talks about racing road bikes back in the seventies as he sits in his penthouse office in Boise’s historic Hoff Building.

He sees cyclists among the most elite of all athletes because the sport requires speed, endurance and a lot of power. “I’ve always found it fascinating that probably the best use of potential energy or use of potential human energy is a bicycle.”

So it’s no surprise that Carkulis is interested in investing in cycling as a way to market his renewable energy company.  Exergy Development Group focuses on wind, bioenergy, geothermal and hydro. It has nearly a dozen wind projects in Idaho backs.

The group backs the Exergy TWENTY12. That’s the team that Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong races on. It also supports a men’s pro team called Team Exergy. It’s tag line? “Ride the Wind.”

That team is one of a handful of pro teams in the continental U.S. to be invited to participate in three major races including the Amgen Tour of California and the Pro Challenge in Colorado.  

Carkulis says he’s proud of what race organizers accomplished in just six months. Sixteen of the world’s top professional women’s cycling teams competed for $100,000. That’s thought to be the largest cash prize ever for such a race.

Carkulis also invested in an app called Tour Tracker that let fans closely follow each tour stage. It was the first time the technology was used for a women’s race.

Carkulis says he’s committed to bringing an improved Exergy Tour back to Boise next year that would add another stage and make one of the races longer.  And that’s good news for the racers.

Evelyn Stevens who won the entire Tour on Memorial Day commented after the race that “I’m excited to race it next year so hopefully it’s still here.”  

Teammate Clara Hughes says she had high expectations for the Exergy Tour. She remembers competing in the Women’s Challenge. That’s another stage race that lasted for 19 years in Idaho before it lost funding. Hughes says the Exergy Tour didn’t disappoint.

“It’s a platform for this race to grow from and for women’s cycling to grow from,” she said after finishing five days of racing. “I think that Idaho and Exergy (Development Group) can show the world how to celebrate female athletes at their best.”

It takes serious cash to pull together a top level cycling event. The Tour de France for example costs millions of dollars every year. Carkulis won’t say how much he spent on the Exergy Tour. He chuckles and says “Let’s just say that it costs a lot of money.”

He says that money – whatever the figure – is the answer to helping grow and elevate women’s cycling. “The investment needs to be made if we’re going to have female venues and we are very short of female venues in the U.S.”

The inaugural Exergy Tour drew a lot of excitement among the racers. Many of the women said afterward they were amazed at how many people came to cheer on the riders. They also were impressed with how professional the race felt.

As for Carkulis, he has big plans for the Tour. “There can be a fourth major in the United States and in North America,” he says. “And we intend to make the Exergy Tour that fourth major.” 

He hopes to use his renewable energy company to continue raising the bar for women’s pro racing and men’s too. He already sponsors major cycling races in Utah and California along with Boise’s Twilight Criterium in July.

As key as he’s been to helping revive professional cycling in Idaho, Carkulis looks to enlist the help of others. He plans to announce some new affiliations for the Exergy Tour in the coming weeks.