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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tour of Missouri: A modest preview

In a matter of hours, the Tour of Missouri begins in Kansas City.

Most of you already know the significance of the race: It's the final American race for the Discovery Channel team. Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer and long-time Lance Armstrong lieutenant George Hincapie will be joined by some of the top U.S. and European teams on the rolling hills of Missouri.

It's also the most important bicycle race ever held in the Show-Me State, and the state of Missouri is banking a lot of money -- $1 million to be exact -- that the race will bring lots of tourism dollars into the state. Hopefully, the race also will encourage more people to go out and bike.

Not all the world's top cyclists will be in Missouri. Many of them, including Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre, are racing in the Vuelta a EspaƱa. Still, the race will give great exposure to lesser-known, yet talented, racers.

Generally speaking, the Tour of Missouri has received lots of positive coverage from the state's newspapers. It will be interesting to see if that coverage brings out casual fans and introduce new people to the sport.

A Google blog search for the Tour of Missouri generally shows positive commentary about the event. One exception is the progressive blog Fired Up, which takes a dim view of the state spending $1 million in taxpayers' money on the race. Here's an example of what Fired Up has to say:
The massive infusion of taxpayer money to support (Gov.) Matt Blunt and (Lt. Gov.) Peter Kinder's bike race is being laundered through a closely controlled private organization--- the Hawthorn Foundation.

Once used to fund gubernatorial trade missions with exporter contributions, the Hawthorn Foundation is now receiving massive amounts of taxpayer funding from Blunt and Kinder.

Their likely purpose: to try to conceal from the prying eyes of the press the spending details and race documents (including doping test results) -- even though two high-level public officials, Blunt and Kinder, are overseeing the entire effort. Down to the last drop.
I don't know enough about Missouri politics to say whether the issue is legitimate, but the group's obsession with doping and its pandering to the fears about traffic tie-ups in St. Louis on Sunday tells me there's more rhetoric than reality to Fired Up's claims.

There is no doubt there will be lots of sports traffic in downtown St. Louis on Sunday. In addition to the Tour of Missouri, the St. Louis Rams take on the San Francisco 49ers at the Edward Jones Dome (noon start), while the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium (1:15 p.m. start). The sixth stage of the Tour of Missouri starts at 1 p.m. at Union Station and is expected to end sometime between 3:30 and 4 p.m.

City streets and the region's MetroLink light-rail trains will see lots of users, so give yourself plenty to time to get to where you're going and plenty of time to go home.

Several other events are being planned around Tour of Missouri.

Trailnet, which organizes many of the St. Louis region's largest group ride, will have a Tour of Missouri Fun Ride on Saturday in St. Charles, the St. Louis suburb that hosts the finish line for Stage 5. Cyclists will be able to ride the Katy Trail to vantage points to see the race.

There also will be plenty of activity in Hermann, the capital of Missouri's wine country. The Hermann Wine Trail will sponsor The Seven Hills of Hermann Ride at 8 a.m. Saturday. Tour of Missouri is expected to pass through Hermann about 1 p.m. On Friday night, Hermann plays host to a 2-mie time trial that features 400 feet of vertical climbing.

To see the events planned for the other cities on the Tour of Missouri route, visit the ride's calendar page.

Because of jury duty and other work obligations, I probably will be able to see only one stage of the race, the St. Louis stage. I will try to offer commentary and other insights about the Tour as it progresses, plus I will be adding Tour of Missouri news to the Bicycle racing feeds listed in the right column of this blog.

Versus will air highlights of the Tour of Missouri on Sept. 22.

Here's hoping the Tour of Missouri will enhance the Midwest cycling scene and bring positive attention to the state of Missouri.

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