By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
On Thursday, Aqu Sports, the promoter of the contentious Tour of America, announced the third trimming of its route for the proposed September 2008 race. This comes in response to harsh criticism levied at the race organisers back at the announcing press conference during the Interbike trade show. Cyclingnews spoke with the Tour Director, Frank Arokiasamy about the progress of the planning.
"Things are moving along really fast," he said. "I say that with reservations, because some [things] are slower."
When asked which part is slower than expected, Arokiasamy acknowledged it was finding sponsors, which he said is his primary task in the organisation. "It is good, but it is the part that is slower than I would have liked. I haven't had a real 'no' answer yet. Some I am very close to getting on board, and I want to have a joint press conference when they come on board."
At the Interbike press conference, Arokiasamy said he had a goal of having 20 million dollars in sponsorships locked up by the end of October. "It will probably be a little later than I expected," he said in response. However, he confirmed he was close to making deals with major corporations, though not naming names. "I am in negotiations with several companies. The initial hundred thousand will be able to chose their stages." This plan is what he sees as a solution to the problems other races in America have faced with the title sponsorship model. "Having a marquee sponsor for the race is the death knell for any race," he said.
The latest incarnation of the race route is much shorter than the initial 27-day, 7,000-plus kilometre route, announced in September. "I wanted a wow factor which is why I made the route and prizes so big, but I want to keep the prizes the same," Arokiasamy explained. About two weeks after the largely negative reaction to this route, the Tour of America website posted a revised route, similar to the current itinerary. The new route is only 21 days and just over 3500 kilometres long, with a major air transfer from Missouri to Colorado. "It was more a tentative route, and it is always going to be. We had at least six different versions. We had to rework all of the angles because it is an ongoing process."
Some of the cities have changed, with the tour start no longer a prologue through Manhattan to ground zero, but a point-to-point race from Central Park to Philadelphia. Arokiasamy assured that the logistics planning was much farther along than sponsorships. "We have contacted all of the major cities on the route," he said. "I am in contact with Mayor Bloomberg's office to set up a time, which is not an easy thing to do. But one of my staff has already met personally with him."
Arokiasamy also was quick to point out that many people are interested in turning his dream into reality. "People are coming out of the woodwork asking if they can help. We have around 200 volunteers around the country so far, and I'm driving up to Augusta, Georgia, soon to meet with three people." He also said the response from teams was positive, though he was careful not to name names. "We wrote to thirty-five top level teams all over the world and we got ten replies in the first day."
Still, the sceptics are out there and will not be likely to quiet down with just a new route plan. "We got blasted like crazy at the Interbike show, especially for the length," said Arokiasamy. "We never planned to make it that long, but we got blasted and justifiably so. We had a retreat in Myrtle Beach with thirteen people to decide if we had something. And one of the things I insisted is that nobody have an ego. If we had egos we would not have changed. But we wanted to show the people that we were listening."
Beyond the feasibility of the route, the sceptics also want to know where the money will come from. That is the challenge Arokiasamy faces himself - and as before, he does so optimistically. "The cities want to know who the sponsors and teams are, and the sponsors want to know which cities and teams will be in the race. It is a total chicken and egg situation. But when we get the first ones, which is the hardest, it will give us momentum," he concluded.