Organisers of the Merco Cycling Classic announced today that early-season California race has been cancelled for 2014, bringing to a conclusion the event's 20-year run. In a press release, the organisers cited "committee atrophy" and "risk of financial burden" as the twin factors contributing to the event's demise in Merced, California.
"I am proud of the organization we have had over our 20 year run," said race founder and event director Doug Fluetsch. "There is nothing I would ever hide behind regarding this event. We have always paid our bills, treated athletes with respect and carried the torch proudly for our sponsors.
"We have provided the community of Merced with an event and venue they could always be proud of and enjoy, all the while offering the athletes a broad stage to perform on. There is not more I could ask for, which makes me very proud that our last year in 2013 was our best edition ever."
Phil Gaimon (Bissell) and Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) won the respective elite men's and women's races at the 2013 edition which took place February 28-March 3.
The event, which started in 1993, had grown over the years from a single-day race in downtown Merced to a four-day stage race featuring venues in Merced County, Stanislaus County with the Hilltop Ranch Road Race and Mariposa County with the recent addition of the MID Lake McClure Road Race. Initially the event drew regional attention but quickly began to attract both national and international recognition as a proving ground for current and future champions. Riders such as Baden Cooke, Chris Horner, Jay Sweet, Gord Fraser, Mike Sayers, Ben Jacques-Maynes, J.J. Haedo, Ina Teutenberg, Emilia Fahlin and Evelyn Stevens have earned victories at the race.
The core organizing committee has been intact for nearly the length of the event's life, with Doug Fluetsch for the full 20 years, Becky Cipriano and Don Bergman for 17 and Steve Hale for 15. Four pillar committee members resigned at the end of the 20th anniversary creating a hole in historical knowledge and logistical ability that Fluetsch feels would be difficult to replace. "When we have title sponsors and supporting sponsors who consistently provide the funds to help propel a top quality event for the community, we feel it is a massive responsibility to deliver at that level. With the current core structure of the committee, we fear that may be difficult to guarantee," said Fluetsch.
"The Merco-Mercy has been a spring thing for me over the past 20 years," said Fluetsch. "It will be odd without it. This is a group of people that I often laughed with and faced some downright odd challenges with. I have learned so much from the event and the people that helped to put it on. I am so very thankful for their friendship and lessons. It has been a wonderful experience."
The committee is intending to close their books with a $9,000 donation to the Merced Rescue Mission, a local Merced charity. The Merced Rescue Mission is a group of men who performed much of the physical labor required to stage the event for the past 10 years.