By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The Tour of Missouri, one of the biggest stage races in the US after only two years, will join its two sister races, the Tours of California and Georgia, with a top 2.HC rating on the recently released 2008-2009 UCI calendar. The race, bankrolled by the state's board of tourism and backed by the Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, is run by Medalist Sports which also works with the other two tours.
Medalist's managing partner Chris Aronhalt announced the rating upgrade last Thursday to the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism, a US$13.4 billion state industry, according to the Kansas City Star. Governor Matt Blunt and Lieutenant Governor Kinder appropriated state funding to help start the event in 2007 that Aronhalt told the Star this year amounted to around US$1.7 million of the event's US$3.3 million total budget.
Medalist has a three-year contract with the state which ends in 2009. With Blunt not seeking re-election and Kinder running again, the future of the race is uncertain beyond 2009, at least in terms of support from the state. Aronhalt said he was at the conference to find host and route cities for 2009, but also to begin looking for a title sponsor to replace the state funding necessary to run the race for a fourth year and beyond.
"The state has done a fantastic job giving birth to the tour," Aronhalt told the Star. "But a title sponsor is what is necessary for the tour to continue."
Of course the assembled crowds were asking what the return of Lance Armstrong could mean to the race, if the former Tour de France winner were to compete in Missouri. Aronhalt said he is hoping Armstrong puts Missouri on his 2009 schedule, but said not to count on it. "It would be icing on the cake," he said. "But we want to make sure it isn't built on one rider."
The hors categorie rating increase does not affect items such as the make-up of the field, which has the same requirements as a 2.1 rating for the America Tour, the continental circuit where all of the racing in North America resides. In other words, the amount of ProTour teams is still limited to 50 percent and the minimum amount of foreign teams required is still five. But items such as prize money minimums do increase and could help attract higher profile teams.
As well, the rating will increase the amount of UCI points on offer; and with the race at such a late date on the calendar, it could play host to an America Tour points battle.