By Kirsten Robbins in Kansas City, Missouri
The inaugural Tour of Missouri is one of a handful of American races that serves as a stage for domestic teams to showcase their abilities against the respected European squads. That's exactly what Toyota-United's Ivan Dominguez did on Stage 1's 137 kilometre trip around Kansas City. Race director Jim Birrell is pleased to be bringing successful North American teams like Toyota-United, Symmetrics and Navigators the opportunity to compete against the world's best, having watched the teams' progression over the years.
"Being able to create more platform for these team to accelerate against the world's best teams and riders is always rewarding," Birrell said. "Being able to help the American program excel on the streets here in the US is incredible. It creates more household names for these guys. Our media attention is brought to us by attracting some of the ProTour teams and to be able to have domestic racers like Ivan Dominguez win is going to help our sport blossom into the level that we want it to."
Toyota-United's stage winner Dominguez, who also won a stage at February's Tour of California, had no doubts that the American peloton would pull through for an impressive start to the race. "I definitely believed that our riders would be on the podium today and be leading a race of this caliber," said Dominguez. "I went into this race expecting to see teams from the US and Canada on the podium and today and I know this isn't the last time. I think that our riders will be on the podium for the whole tour."
Some riders may seem overly optimistic, given that the Tour de France winning team is on hand with its Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador, but sometimes confidence does breed success. Kyle Wamsley (Navigators Insurance), who finished third on the opening stage, is one person in the optimistic camp. "It shows that the domestic teams are on par with the international team here and we can race in any races they can race in," said Wamsley. "If we scare them it will make them think twice about coming over and trying to show how strong they are. But it's great right now because there are a couple of teams that will not be here next year so it is really good for the sport right now and cycling in the US."
Coming out of Canada, the Symmetrics team likely received an invitation to the Tour of Missouri based in part on their lead in the UCI America Tour. The team's sprinter Zach Bell placed second to Dominguez on the opening stage and regarded the event's flatter stages as an added opportunity for teams to be more involved in the bike race. "I think our role in a race like this, being one of the smaller teams, is to go for stage wins or stage podiums," said Bell. "With the stages being flatter we can have a bigger part in the race. We are going to take the opportunities as they present themselves. As the week goes on we will formulate a strategy and I think that is what a lot of other teams are waiting for as well."