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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Final thoughts on the 2007 Tour of Missouri



By most accounts, the first-ever Tour of Missouri was a big success. Thousands of people -- many of whom had never seen a bicycle race before -- got a taste of what big-time bicycle racing is all about.

Here's some final thoughts about the race and its future:

Will there be a 2008 version of the Tour of Missouri? Yes. Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder says the state is committed to supporting the race in 2008 and 2009. This year, the state put in $1 million toward the race. While some folks are concerned about how the money is being spent and whether using a bicycle race to promote tourism in the state is a wise investment, Kinder and his boss, Gov. Matt Blunt, believe the event will promote tourism in Missouri.

While the Tour of Missouri did not have a title sponsor in 2007, lots of Missouri businesses did pour money into the event. The fan turnout may convince those businesses to maintain or increase their investment into the event, and if the sport of cycling can further clean up its act as far as doping is concerned, Medalist Sports just may succeed in finding a title sponsor.

Why prompted the strong fan turnout? Two words: Discovery Channel. The fact that Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer, along with George Hincapie, were in the race automatically increased interest in the race. The fact that the Tour of Missouri was the final U.S. appearance for Discovery Channel was another drawing card.

The crowd estimates for Stage 6 in St. Louis ranged from 55,000 to 60,000, very strong considering there were two other major sporting events that drew more than 100,000 between them in St. Louis at the same time. While some spots on the 10.6-mile circuit only had a few fans, such as the backstretch on Olive Street pictured above, the start-finish line at Union Station and many streets in or near the Central West End neighborhood were jammed with fans.

Kansas City's Stage 1 had a turnout of about 40,000, and Stage 5 from Jefferson City to St. Charles drew about 30,000, including a large contingent on the Schluersberg Road hill.

Can Tour of Missouri repeat the buzz? That depends on whether Hincapie's and Leipheimer's new teams are interested in coming to Missouri next year. While there were a lot of promising riders in the Tour of Missouri, those cyclists don't get a lot of attention in the mainstream media.

I'm not sure how many top European pros will come over for the Tour of Missouri. If the 2008 version of the race is run in September, it once again will conflict with the Vuelta a EspaƱa.

Where will the Tour of Missouri in the future? You would think that the event would go to St. Louis and Kansas City every year, and you can make a strong argument that the Springfield-Branson area should get a stage annually. Only a small portion of this year's route went north of Interstate 70, so St. Joseph and the hilly countryside in northwestern Missouri could get some consideration. No doubt, Cape Girardeau and its cycling community will be seeking a piece of the action as well.

Highlights of the Tour of Missouri: The obvious ones: Hincapie's overall victory, especially his finish in Stage 2 in Springfield; Leipheimer's time trial victory; the challenge cyclists faced with the seemingly unending "rolling" hills of Missouri; and the fan turnout.

Lowlights of the Tour of Missouri: Dan Schmatz's encounter with the armadillo in Stage 2 and Brad Huff's accident on the final sprint in Stage 6. Both were unfortunate because they are Missouri natives who wanted to put on a good show in the Show-Me State.

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