The biggest and liveliest sports spectacular in York for years will close part of the city to traffic on May Bank Holiday Monday.

Organisers of the Prutour international cycling race are gearing up for possibly as many as 50,000 spectators flooding into the city.The second stage of the largest cycle race to have been held in Britain ends in York on the afternoon of May 25.

The finish is just before Malton Road joins Stockton Lane beyond the Stockton on Forest Inn. Special arrangements are still being planned to cope with the huge number of spectators, routes to and from the Malton Road area and extra parking facilities.

The first of the 108 riders will be racing into York at 2pm at the end of a gruelling 108 miles from Gateshead.

Carnival events allied to the main race are being organised around the finish. These include children's obstacle races, static cycling competitions, a cycling exhibition featuring computerised competitions, jugglers, acrobats and music.

"We want to promote cycling as part of a healthy lifestyle and urge people to get on their bike for fun and as a sport," said Clare Salmon, consumer marketing director of race sponsors Prudential and herself a keen cyclist and regular competitor at events round the world.

Graeme Obree, twice World Pursuit Champion, was in York yesterday to help launch the build-up to York's participation in Prutour, a new race in Britain and the biggest cycling event in the country.

"This will be the fifth biggest cycling race anywhere in the world and it will be a people's race for the people," he said.

In terms of prize money and quality of riders it will be bigger and better than was the Milk Race, which was for years considered the sport's blue riband event in the UK.

Many of the world's best riders from Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, America, Denmark and Holland will be taking part.

The tour starts in Stirling on May 23 and lasts nine days, with eight stages covering a total of 800 miles finishing in central London on May 31. The Stirling start features a prologue, then the race moves to Edinburgh for the first stage ending in Newcastle.

The second stage, from Gateshead to York, includes some fearsome climbs across the North York Moors, the mile-long Westerdale Moor, followed in rapid succession by Westerdale (2.8 miles) and then Rosedale Chimney, a one in four climb.

The last big test of the day is Gallamoor from where the riders face a fast 40 mile run-in through Gilling and Sutton on the Forest to York.

Riders come through Huntington, round the back of Asda and down New Lane on to the Malton Road.

Prutour technical director Mick Bennett said that a city centre finish was not possible because with 108 riders involved it is essential for them to have a lot of space. City centre areas had been considered but found not to be suitable.

Once the York stage has ended the riders and teams will be trnsported to Manchester for the third stage to Blackpool. The race moves on via Chester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Reading, Chessington and Medway to the finish in Holborn, London.

There will be 18 invited teams of six riders each, with the star British name being former Olympic gold medallist and Tour de France stage winner Chris Boardman in the French GAN team.

Another top competitor will be Russian Vjatceslav (Vladi) Ekimove of the US Postal Service team whose surname has become part of thre language of cycling. His renowned breakways in the last few miles of a stage have become known as 'Ekimovs'.

The York stage will favour riders whose strength is climbing and Australian Neil Stephens of the Festina team will be one to watch for.

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