BRIAN HEAD — Hundreds of the country's top mountain bikers will descend on Brian Head this week seeking to become the winner of America's top off-road stage race.

The American Mountain Classic is patterned after some of the toughest races in the world — but is one of the first stage races of its type to be held in the U.S.

With four stages, including one 6-mile sprint prologue to determine the starting order for the first big trip into the mountains, the AMC begins today and wraps up Sunday after three races of more than 50 miles each through the thin air along the trails of southern Utah.

Big name pros like Jeremiah Bishop, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Ryan Trebon (who also raced in last week's Tour of Utah road race) are scheduled to race, along with many of Utah's top riders.

The race is designed to be similar in nature to Canada's TransRockies Classic and Costa Rica's La Ruta de los Conquistadores.

After Thursday's prologue, the cyclists will hit the trails on Friday for the 55-mile challenge called "The Rim." Following the Virgin River Rim Trail, cyclists will climb and descend more than 5,000 feet of mountain before finishing.

Saturday's stage, "The Peak," takes the cyclists up Brian Head Peak to an elevation of nearly, 11,000 feet before descending to Red Desert and Tippets Valley before finishing at Cedar Breaks National Monument for 55 total miles.

To finish things off, the chase for the race title is a 54-mile journey through what is called "Dark Hollow." Circling the course twice, cyclists will face about 5,600 feet of climbing before finally finishing.

The AMC has more than $20,000 in prize money up for grabs.

American Mountain Classic

When: Aug. 21-24

Where: Brian Head

What: Four-day mountain bike stage race