Tour of Missouri an idea officials couldn’t ignore

State officials moved quickly to create new cycling event.
Thursday, July 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:03 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

You could say it happened backwards. A little out of order. But, going after what you want is providing results for Missouri state officials.

Two years ago, a conversation between Governor Matt Blunt and close friend Cary Summers of Springfield inspired the Tour of Missouri. An avid cyclist, Summers had seen the Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia, the two most notable cycling events in North America. He mentioned the possibility of a race in Missouri to the governor.

“It was such a good idea that it stuck in his (Blunt’s) head,” said Communication Director Barry Bennett. “From there, he passed the idea on to the Lieutenant Governor to do some investigating and find out how to bring a race to Missouri.”

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is also the chairman of the Missouri Tourism Commission, took an active approach to the idea, contacting Medalist Sports, a cycling management group.

“We decided to persevere,” Kinder said. “I really did not want to wake up one morning and see that another state had a tour. Maybe Wisconsin or Iowa, or God forbid, Kansas.”

Chris Aronhalt, project director of Medalist Sports said Missouri essentially chose the tour.

“We were called by Lt. Gov. Kinder,” Aronhalt said. “He had enthusiasm and asked, ‘Why can’t we do this?’”

Neither of them found a reason. And in October the dates for the race were set.

The inaugural 600-mile Tour of Missouri will be held from Sept. 11 to 16, beginning in Kansas City and finishing in St. Louis. The Discovery Channel team, famous for Lance Armstrong’s final Tour de France victory, signed on at the end of June.

The 120 racers from 15 professional teams will race through Columbia on Sept. 14. Specific street routes for the point-to-point race through Kansas City, Clinton, Springfield, Branson, Lebanon, Columbia, Jefferson City, St. Charles and St. Louis have not yet been determined, but should be available in late July, according to Aronhalt.

“We are just about done with the routes,” he said. “We are working with the local organizing committees and community leaders, double-checking everything to make sure it’s all agreeable.”

Several important spots in Columbia are known, including key intersections that the cyclists will travel through and the spot for the finish line.

According to Jody Russell, convention services manager for the Columbia Visitor’s and Convention Bureau, stage four of the tour will have cyclists racing into and finishing in downtown Columbia.

“The finish line will be at Eighth and Walnut in front of the Courthouse,” she said. “They will go north on College from Stadium, take a left on Walnut and sprint to the finish at Eighth.”

Sgt. Timothy Moriarty, traffic unit supervisor for the Columbia Police Department, said that riders will travel west on Grindstone Parkway and north on Rock Quarry Road until it turns into College Avenue.

Riders are expected to finish stage four between 3:30 and 5 p.m. with an awards ceremony following. Russell said the downtown course is unofficial until Medalist Sports releases the official routes.

Ben Jones, Chief of Staff to the Lt. Gov. for the tour, said many factors contribute to planning the routes.

“We began working with Medalist Sports nine months ago, looking at what would be the most challenging and safest route,” Jones said.

He added that communication between the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Department of Transportation was essential.

Sue Cox, project manager of the Tour of Missouri for the Department of Transportation, said the route will showcase Missouri’s landscapes with portions on rural roads as well as providing the cyclists with difficult paths.

“Pro cyclists like challenging, narrow, winding roads,” she said. “And, actually, they might see more turtles than cars.”

But since the course will likely include areas with substantial traffic, the Highway Patrol has set up a “rolling closure” for the race.

Officers will close the necessary roads a few minutes before the riders come through, with the closure expected to last between 20 and 30 minutes, according to Cox. However, she was adamant that any emergency vehicles would still be allowed through if needed.

The rolling closure will include patrol cars leading and following the cyclists. A core group of 10 to 12 officers will coordinate the timing of road closings and intersections.

“It’s not uncommon to make a bubble around a moving group,” Captain Ron Walker of the Highway Patrol said. “It’s what we would do if it was a presidential event. But people still have commercial activities to get to. We’re just closing the roads for the time needed.”

But parts of the downtown area will be under a “hard closure,” blocked off with barricades and police cars from morning until the race is finished.

“Walnut will be closed between Ninth and Seventh,” Sgt. Moriarty said. “And Eighth between Broadway and Park.”

The date for the Columbia portion of the Tour Missouri coincidently falls the same weekend as an MU football game. Saturday, Sept. 15, the Tigers take on the Broncos of Western Michigan University at Faurot Field. This is also Fall Family Weekend at MU, which means the city is expected to be extremely busy. Therefore, hotel accommodations for the participants have already been made.

“The cyclists will stay overnight in Columbia and will be auto transported (to Jefferson City for stage five) in the morning,” Russell said.

Motor field marshals, mechanics, trainers, masseuses and others will also travel with the riders.

Video of the race will be available beginning at 1 p.m. so fans can receive more than a blurred glance at the professional riders when they zoom by.

“We will have a big screen set up with a live feed about two hours before the racers are expected,” Russell said. “We will also have a health expo in the parking lot at Eighth and Ash Streets. We are still working to schedule events prior to the race, but we are bringing in appealing activities to keep the people and kids entertained, like a band playing and family fun activities.”

Sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the international governing body for cycling based in Switzerland, and USA Cycling, the national governing body based in Colorado Springs, Col., the Missouri race has the third-highest ranking in the country. Missouri’s many hills and varied terrain, along with a time trial in Branson, give the race a ranking just behind the Tour of California and Tour de Georgia.

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