UPDATE: Organizers cancel Tour of Missouri bicycle race

Thursday, May 27, 2010 | 5:54 p.m. CDT; updated 8:58 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 27, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Organizers of the Tour of Missouri canceled this summer's bicycle race Thursday after state tourism officials declined to help fund it.

Tour of Missouri Chairman Mike Weiss said organizers pulled the plug on the race after Gov. Jay Nixon's administration refused to back it.

Earlier Thursday, a budget committee for the Missouri Tourism Commission endorsed a $13.4 million spending plan that included no state money for the race. State lawmakers had indicated a preference to allot the race $1 million.

Nixon spokeswoman Christine Bertelson said the final decision on state funding for the race belonged to the tourism commission, not the governor. But she indicated that Nixon agreed with the decision.

"In these economic times, given all the cuts that are going on all over state government, there are a lot of things that would be great if they could happen, but the state can't afford them," Bertelson said.

The 2010 Tour of Missouri had been scheduled for Aug. 31 through Sept. 6. Organizers had said previously that it likely would be canceled if the state did not subsidize it.

The three previous annual races received a total of $6 million in public money in addition to corporate and private donations. But the race struggled to find a title sponsor, which would have relieved the state of a financial commitment.

Supporters of the race blamed its cancellation partly on politics.

Last year, Nixon's administration temporarily froze the race's $1.5 million tourism allocation because of the state's financial troubles. The money ultimately was released and the race occurred.

Nixon is a Democrat. The Tour of Missouri was started under his predecessor, Republican Matt Blunt. And it has been championed by Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a likely challenger to Nixon in the 2012 election.

Race supporters complained that Nixon's office ignored their requests for meetings where they could have made a case for the race.

"There needs to be some sort of state endorsement for us to move forward with the planning," Weiss said. Because that never occurred, "we're not working on the event."

The race had been managed by Atlanta-based Medalist Sports Inc., which had wanted a commitment to public financing by this month.

"The leadership and support unfortunately appears to no longer exist, which is an integral element of a successful event of this nature," Chris Aronhalt, manager partner of Medalist Sports, said in a statement Thursday.

Financial woes also have scuttled professional cycling races in Utah, Connecticut and Georgia in recent years, leaving the Tour of California as the country's only high-level pro-cycling event.

An economic analysis of the 2009 Tour of Missouri — paid for by the state — estimated that a half-million people watched the race and spent more than $30 million. But some tourism officials have questioned the value of the race when compared to a broader marketing campaign for Missouri.

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

"Everyone's going to have to take a cut in these tough times," Tourism Commission Vice Chairman Scott Hovis said during Thursday's budgetary meeting.

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Robert Acree May 27, 2010 | 7:48 p.m.

Another victim of the governor's overkill strategy. Jay apparently is not aware, or simply doesn't care about the income and prestigue this event has generated in past years. Go figure??? Robert Acree

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