KANSAS CITY — American David Zabriskie was never challenged in the final stage of the Tour of Missouri, cruising along with the main pack while others made runs toward the front.
The race's future won't be such an easy ride.
Zabriskie won the first professional stage race of his career on Sunday, holding onto his 30-second lead during a 71.4-mile ride through the streets of downtown Kansas City in what could be the final stage for Tour of Missouri.
"It'd be very disappointing if it didn't continue," Zabriskie said. "It's important to have races like this in America, it's continued to grow. The fans, as you can tell, love it, the riders definitely like it — everyone really enjoys racing here."
Shielded by his Garmin-Slipstream teammates, Zabriskie hovered in the main pack, keeping an eye on Gustav Larsson, who was second overall entering the final stage. Zabriskie finished 3 seconds behind stage winner Martin Gilbert of Canada, who completed seven laps of a 10.2-mile circuit in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 11 seconds.
Larsson remained in second overall and Marco Pinotti was third in the 612-mile race that started Monday in St. Louis.
Now comes the hard part of the race.
Its three-year sponsorship deal with the state complete, the Tour of Missouri will have to convince state legislators to continue funding a cycling race at a time when they're trying trim expenditures in a weak economy.
Tour of Missouri officials have looked into corporate sponsorship, but that state provides services that go beyond what a sponsor could provide, including state troopers and transportation workers.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon hasn't exactly thrown his support toward continuing the race. The Democrat, voted into office last November, has taken a few shots at the Tour, and even tried to pull a $1.5 million tourism allocation for this year's race — a move that resulted in over 1,000 e-mails from race supporters.
Nixon has been at odds with Republican Lt. Governor Pete Kinder, leader of the state's tourism commission and a huge Tour of Missouri proponent. After failing to entice Nixon to watch one of the race stages, he plans to send a letter to the governor on Monday to set a meeting and talk about its future.
"It seems to build each year in interest, in excitement and viewership," Kinder said. "I think if we can put aside other differences and pull together, we can pull off an even better 2010 Tour of Missouri."
The Tour of Missouri appears to be a success, at least from a fan perspective.
According to an economic impact study, the inaugural race in 2007 drew 285,000 fans and brought in $26.2 million to the state. Last year, it was 435,000 fans and $29.2 million despite inclement weather during most of the race.
Enthusiastic crowds in towns like Farmington, Rolla and St. Joseph lined the course each day, and race fans swarmed downtown Kansas City on Sunday. Race officials expect to break last year's attendance record.
Many of the top riders in the world have participated in the race, including George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and Mark Cavendish, who dropped out after two stages due to an infection that spread to his lungs. Defending champion Christian Vande Velde also went out early with a broken wrist.
Most have praised the race's organization and set up, and compared the fans' enthusiasm to what they see in Europe.
"When you were coming down that hill after the finish and to see the fans running across that field from one side to the other, that's how it is over there," Zabriskie said.
A time-trial specialist, Zabriskie took the overall lead during the individual time trial in Stage 5 Thursday in Sedalia. He maintained it during the 110.3-mile stage from Chillicothe to St. Joseph, and finished it off in Kansas City for his first major win.
"A time trial victory is nice — those have been the majority of my wins, my success — but that's a physical attribute that I know I have and that I can do," Zabriskie said. "This was something that's always been out there that 'oh, maybe I can do it,' and now that it's happened it's pretty special."