• Mon October 06 2008
  • Posted Oct 6, 2008
By RICK ALM The Kansas City Star After just two years the Tour of Missouri has been promoted to international cycling’s big leagues. The Union Cycliste Internationale has announced that next year’s week-long, 600-mile race across the Show Me state will be run under the sport’s highest rating, 2HC, which awards premium international competition points to winners. “For the Tour of Missouri to become HC category means it has attained the highest ranking it can get in the U.S.,” said Andy Lee, a spokesman for the European-based Internationales’ American affiliate USA Cycling. Lee said the upgrade should attract more attention from fans, the international media and top international competitors including, just maybe, cycling superstar Lance Armstrong who, by the race’s start on Sept. 7 next year may have added an unprecedented 8th Tour de France winner’s jersey to his collection. Armstrong has announced he’ll race in a California event next February and in another race in Australia leading up to the Tour de France in July. But nobody knows where else he’ll choose to appear in his heralded comeback from retirement that was announced during last month’s Tour of Missouri. “Missouri has made a name for itself,” said Chris Aronhalt, managing partner of Atlanta-based Medalist Sports the Missouri race owner that also owns the top rated Amgen Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia which are the only other 2HC-rated races among 39 sanctioned events scheduled through 2009 in the Western Hemisphere. Aronhalt announced the Missouri race’s international rating upgrade Thursday to an estimated 270 representatives of Missouri’s $13.4 billion tourism industry who were gathered in Kansas City this week for the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism. In an interview Thursday Aronhalt said he’s hopeful Armstrong will add Missouri to his 2009 schedule, but he said he isn’t counting on it. “It would be icing on the cake,” he said. “But we want to make sure it isn’t built on one rider.” To woo Armstrong here Aronhalt said the Tour of Missouri has one big obstacle to overcome: the Vuelta a Espana, the Spanish international pro tour race whose September dates annually conflict with the Missouri race and is one of only three international Grand Tour events on the pro tour that outrank a 2HC race. The others are the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. Armstrong has joined the international Astana team that last month chose to compete in the premier Spanish race instead of the Tour of Missouri. It won. Lee said HC ranking combines many elements, some subjective, including how well the event is organized, the level of the race’s difficulty, the quality of the competition the race attracts, the amount of prize money at stake, safety features for riders and the level of support provided them, including hotel rooms and the like. “Missouri has already attained in a couple of years a tremendous field with several top international professional teams,” said Lee. “The HC ranking will help attract more notable teams and create more excitement and draw in a bigger fan base.” But that’s 2009. Beyond next year Aronhalt said the Tour of Missouri’s future is uncertain. Gov. Matt Blunt and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder jump started the event in 2007 with state funding that Aronhalt said this year amounted to around $1.7 million of the event’s $3.3 million total budget.

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