By Kirsten Robbins in California, USA
The inaugural Tour of California women's criterium proved to be a success as thousands of fans gathered two hours in advance of the men's stage two finish to get glimpses of the women's peloton fly through their Santa Rosa street. The women competed on a one and half mile circuit, sprinting to the same finish line as the men's race.
According to AEG Sports president, Andrew Messick, the women's criterium is just the start of what's to come in future years, where plans are being drawn to incorporate a three day event for the women's field. "It was important for us to bring women's racing into the Amgen Tour of California," said Messick. "There are just as many women involved in this sport as there are men and the women who race commit themselves, they work hard and they sacrifice like everyone else and they deserve an opportunity to perform on this stage.
"There are world champions and Olympic medallists in this field and just watching this race was outstanding," he added.
The only glitch in the coordination of a women's stage race is that the women's Australian Geelong Tour is held on the same week and according to Messick, AEG Sports does not want to interfere with the current women's UCI schedule. "I think our next step is to make it more like a three-day race with leveraging the infrastructure that we have for the men's race," said Messick. "We thought very carefully about trying to do that this year and we were a little bit late in the organisation and we didn't want to compete with the UCI event in Geelong, Australia.
"We are going to work next year, in 2009 to try to coordinate the calendars a little bit more," he said. "But we would really like there to be at least three stages."
Budget for the women's criterium was extracted directly out of the budget for the men's stage race, however Messick acknowledged that with the success of the single-day event this year he expects funding come from new sponsors. "Right now we have not asked for any additional support to run the women's criterium but I think there will be a time when we can do that but for now we are prepared to do it within our existing budget," said Messick.