Leipheimer plans to defend USA Pro Challenge title (AP)

Reigning Tour de France champion , American star Levi Leipheimer and several of the world’s top cyclists will roll off the start line at the next month.

The second-year in announced its lineup of teams on Wednesday, and it includes six UCI ProTour teams – the highest classification of teams.

They include American teams -Sharp and Team, the outfit that is trying to shepherd Evans to his second straight Tour de France title this month. Others include the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team of Leipheimer, Liquigas- and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek.

”After winning the Tour de France last year and seeing the enthusiasm of the fans, I didn’t think anything could match it, but then I came to ,” Evans said. ”Seeing the huge crowds that were along the route supporting us at the was remarkable.”

The inaugural race attracted more than 1 million spectators, making it one of the largest cycling events in U.S. history, and organizers hope to nearly double the attendance this year.

”The course and the mountains were beautiful, but incredibly challenging, and I can’t wait to take them on again,” said Evans, who began Wednesday in second behind Britain’s in the Tour’s overall standings. ”I knew last August that I wanted to return to the race.”

The begins Aug. 20 in Durango, Colo., and covers 683 miles with more than 42,000 feet of vertical climbing – one of the highest-elevation races in the world.

The stage from Gunnison to Aspen midway through the race – the so-called ”Queen Stage” – includes two massive climbs: 14 miles of dirt climbing to the 12,126-foot summit of Cottonwood Pass, and later, an equally demanding climb to the famed Independence Pass.

The race concludes Aug. 26 with a time trial in Denver.

”After the 2011 , we had such an overwhelmingly positive response from the teams that it was difficult to narrow it down to 16 teams,” race CEO Shawn Hunter said.

Leipheimer is the defending champion, but he’ll again have a stiff challenge from the likes of Evans, reigning U.S. road champion Timmy Duggan, former Tour de France podium finisher Frank Schleck and , who won last year’s Tour of California.

Five-time Olympian is also scheduled to race. The veteran from the Team announced his intention to retire from after this season.

Full team lineups will be announced at a later date.

”The is building a reputation for having the highest caliber teams in the world, creating fierce competition in the Rockies,” Hunter said. ”I can’t wait to see what these teams have in store for us this August.”

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