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Tour of Missouri canceled for 2010

Tour of Missouri canceled for 2010

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The Tour of Missouri, which became one of the top cycling events in the United States in its three years, is "officially canceled" for 2010, event chairman Mike Weiss said Thursday.

The event had been awaiting $1 million in funding from the state tourism commission, but in essence the money became a political football that didn't go the tour's way.

"This may be a win for the Missouri Tourism Commission and the governor, but a huge loss for the state of Missouri and its citizens," Weiss said.

Last week, Medalist Sports and 776 Original Marketing, which provided logistical support for the race by working with cycling's governing bodies, negotiating with teams and vendors and providing sponsorships, pulled out of the event because of uncertainty over the funding.

The Tour of Missouri had become the second most important bike race in the U.S., next to the Tour of California, and one of only five events outside Europe to gain the highest ranking from cycling's world governing body, the Union Cycliste International.

In its three years, the race drew some of international cycling's bigger names, including 2007 and 2009 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, Tour de France podium finisher and Olympic medalist Levi Leipheimer, three-time U.S. Professional champion George Hincapie, and six-time stage winner in the 2009 Tour de France Mark Cavendish.

Race officials estimated 1.2 million spectators watched the event last year, which started in St. Louis and ended in Kansas City over seven days.

"It's a huge loss," Sean Petty, chief operating officer of USA Cycling, said. "There's no other way to say it. They were a good race from Day 1 and were getting top fields. It's not many events that can bring world-class athletes to so many people, especially the small towns along the route."

As far as the finances and the payoff for the state, Petty said: "I think they got their money's worth at the front and back end with the exposure."

At issue for the 2010 event was $1 million from the state's tourism commission to supplement the event's $3.5 million budget.

On Thursday, a budget committee for the Missouri Tourism Commission approved a $13.4 million spending plan that includes no state money for this summer's race. The budget plan still must go before the full commission.

The proposed state tourism budget also cuts funding for advertising and marketing for the state fiscal year that begins July 1. Advertising spending would be less than half of what it was just two years ago. Last year's budget for the tourism commission was just over $18 million.

"We love the race, but at this critical time, we can't put our eggs in one basket," Marci Bennett, the commission's chair, said in her most recent public comment.

Tour organizers say they are the victim of a political battle between Gov. Jay Nixon (Democrat, anti-Tour of Missouri) and Lt. Gov. Perry Kinder (Republican, pro-Tour of Missouri.) A Nixon official said that the final decision belonged to the Tourism Commission and that there are lots of worthwhile things the state cannot afford right now.

"Let's not kid ourselves, I think people are smart enough to understand," Weiss said.

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