RKP isn’t really a news site, so the announcement that Amgen has renewed its contract with AEG Sports to continue its sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California might seem odd material for a post. The reason it’s here is because this isn’t your garden-variety cycling news. This is big.
I confess, for weeks, more than a month, in fact, I’ve been writing the obituary for the Amgen Tour of California. I thought an announcement notifying cycling fans of the race’s demise was a formality, so the news that the company has renewed isn’t just a pleasant little news brief. This is big.
So why was I so down on the future of the Tour of California? Let me count the reasons.
- In the United States, races have a terrible history of folding after a sponsor’s contract is up. The Coors Classic folded up shop following the 1988 race after the race’s contract with Coors ended. Race director Michael Aisner approached Nuprin and Dodge, both of whom agreed to sponsor the race only to decline involvement at the 11th hour. The Tour de Georgia was notable for the fact that it’s the only major U.S. stage race that managed to sign three different title sponsors—Dodge, Ford and AT&T.
- Losing a race director has had dire consequences for races. When Mike Plant left the Tour DuPont at the end of the 1996 edition, the prospective next sponsor (DuPont’s contract was up) didn’t have much confidence in the new race director and ultimately the race couldn’t secure a new sponsor.
- The 2011 edition of the Amgen Tour of California got off to a rocky start with a stage cancellation and the start of a stage moved. Sponsors don’t like to see their events not happen as planned.
- The 2010 and 2011 editions of the race were upstaged by doping revelations that cast cycling in an unusually negative light. Landis’ and Hamilton’s revelations made much bigger news than the typical positive test. Who wants to spend millions to sponsor an ugly press conference?
- The economy still sucks. It’s why there’s no Tour of Missouri and no Tour de Georgia. Finding sponsorship money is as unlikely as winning the lottery two days in a row.
In the U.S., races come to an end. That’s the unfortunate reality. But these next two years could be key for the event’s longevity; it’s up to AEG to use the time to court (and land) a new sponsor. Make no mistake, this news is huge.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Last week cycling lost yet another home to the peloton. The Tour of Missouri which had quickly risen in the continental ranks as second only to the Tour of California, was found beaten to death this past week, pummeled by some dirty politics and back room dealings. Word on the street unfortunately has it that there are either links to the mafia or a sheep-lovers cult and the murder rises to that of a crime of the highest order. Tour organizers found the lifeless body of the Tour of Missouri outside the steps of the hill on the capitol steps, just west of the Governor’s mansion and immediately put her on life support. Diligent efforts were made to save her life, but after courageous efforts, she passed this past week on May 27.
After a seven-month negotiation with State Tourism, which included a bi-partisan state senate and house approval of $1 million in support for the Tour of Missouri sponsorship, the United States’ second biggest professional cycling event and one of the top stage races outside of Europe, will be officially cancelled should earmarked funds not be released by Tourism and the Governor, according to the board of directors of Tour of Missouri, Inc.
“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,” said Mike Weiss, chairman of the Tour of Missouri, Inc. “It has been an insanely complicated battle for something so beneficial, and it’s left all of us absolutely baffled.
—Tour of Missouri press release May 27, 2010
So, OK, I’m indeed bitter, pissed and sarcastic here. It seems like yet another continental racing effort that just seems to come and go. The sad reality is I can go on with a list of them that I have came to love, like loved ones in my family. The Tour DuPont, Coors Classic, Red Zinger, Tour of Georgia, and now the Tour of Missouri. What does it take to develop a race w/tradition and a heritage that is set in stone?
Can we blame the opposition? As cyclists, we sometimes are not even unified ourselves in something we love. Some work and negotiate to make these races happen. Sometimes it may mean negotiating and developing what appears to be odd relationships. However, working with others to gain support that is more in our interest than theirs is to our benefit, i.e. Amgen and the Tour of California. Despite these benefits however, there are those who despise the corporate support of our racing ventures and cannot understand why we have such odd relationships. Others are indifferent and do nothing in support nor otherwise.
The sad reality is that it takes money and a lot of it in order to support races and events of this magnitude. Private sponsorships, mutual relationships and negotiations have got to be delicately balanced in order for us to have and enjoy something so central to us, that of big cycling events and races.
So our opposition uses this against us. They exploit this weakness and use it as an advantage. They use those who say nothing and point to them as examples that ‘most don’t really care’. The vocal opponents would rather see money used elsewhere.
The key is this: I hope for our sakes that we can unify our divergent ideas, respect our differences and recognize the single thing we have in common. The bike. Sure, we can have interesting discussions like we have here at RKP, we can even heat it up at times, we can correct one another, challenge one another, but when it comes to the outside circles that we congregate ourselves we should represent cycling well and always help it become elevated to the ranks it deserves.
As far as the Tour of Missouri goes, rest in peace my friend, it was a great ride wasn’t it?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International