Organizers of the annual Tour of Missouri professional bicycle race have asked for applications from cities that would like to be on next year’s race route -- even though there are some questions that there will be a race next year for the route.
This year, Gov. Jay Nixon tried to cut $1.5 million for this year’s race as part of a series of cuts from the state’s tourism budget. After taking heat from cycling fans -- and realizing that canceling the race would cost the state more from breach-of-contract lawsuits -- Nixon changed his mind.
Political pundits suggested that the proposed cuts may have been less to help Missouri taxpayers than it was to derail Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican who is chairman of the Tour of Missouri and a possible challenger to Nixon in 2012.
To prevent a repeat next year, organizers have been frantically raising money from private and corporate sources to replace the state‘s share of the costs but at this point, the one-week, 600-mile race might get a flat tire without contributions from the state.
“This is still, unfortunately, unknown,” said Chris Aronhalt, managing partner of Medalist Sports, which puts on the Tour of Missour, about next year‘s race. “We hope that the state will continue its support, as it’s a solid business partnership … with over $38 million in direct economic impact generated for the state.
“It’s a very unique and successful marketing program for Missouri tourism.
“We are confident that the partnership with the state of Missouri will continue, but at the same time, we are in search of a presenting-level sponsor to partner with the state and benefit from the positive aspects of the Tour,”Aronhalt said.
This was the third year of the Tour of Missouri. Like the Tour de France, racing teams pump madly across rolling Missouri hills and small-town streets packed with cheering fans. In the first two years, racers took off from Kansas City and went to St. Louis. This year, the race in September started at St. Louis and ended at Kansas City’s Union Station.
To non-cyclists, the idea of world-class racing event in Missouri might seem bizarre.
But Aronhalt said in its three years of existence, the Tour of Missouri has become a big-wheel deal.
It’s become one of the highest ranked races outside of Europe and for American cycling fans, it’s probably as closes to the legendary Tour de France bicycle race as they’ll get, he said.
And the Tour of Missouri had seven teams from the Tour de France take part this year and attracts some of the nation and world‘s best cyclists, he said.
And it’s all free for spectators, he added.
Approximately a half-million spectators stood along streets and roads to watch the cyclists this year, he said. That’s not counting those who watched via television and Internet broadcasts.
"The 2009 Tour of Missouri was met with tremendous support all across our state and I am proud to report that the numbers prove the same," Kinder told members of the Missouri Tourism Commission recently. “Over 4,000 volunteers worked tirelessly to showcase Missouri across the globe as a world-class tourist destination.
“We were blessed with great weather through the entire week and, even though we visited smaller towns on this year's revised route, spectators from all across the world helped us surpass last year's success to once again make the Tour of Missouri the largest sporting event ever held in our state."
An economic impact study of this year’s race showed that Missouri and the race’s host communities gained by more than $38 million, he said.
“I am very pleased that for the state's investment of $1.5 million in the Tour of Missouri, we were able to return over $38 million to communities in our state," Kinder said.
Despite the uncertainty about the race‘s future, in the meantime it’s business as usual, which means soliciting cities for next year, lining up sponsors and talking to racing teams, Aronhalt said.
“Unless we hear differently from Tour of Missouri, Inc, the not for profit organization that governs the Tour, we are continuing with plans just as we have the past three years.”