Two former pro riders who now lead teams of their own reacted with disappointment but not surprise to news that the Exergy Tour would not return for a second year. Thursday's late night announcement that organizers canceled the women's UCI stage race in Idaho only made official something that has been the subject of rumors for many months.
"I never put it on our calendar," said Tibco-To the Top founder and General Manager Linda Jackson, who raced professionally through 2000 and placed second overall at the Women's Challenge, the previous Idaho race that ran from 1984 through 2002. "I heard months ago that people hadn't been paid from last year, and I heard that no one from the city or the county or whatever had been involved with any planning and there had been no meetings. So when I was working on our calendar this year I just assumed it wasn't going to happen."
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies director Rachel Heal, who raced professionally from 2001 through 2009, had placed the event on her team's schedule but told Cyclingnews Friday that the cancellation, while disappointing, would have little affect on her team's race program.
"There are some other US races going on at the same time," Heal said. "So it falls in an unusually busy time of year for us anyway, with Nature Valley [Grand Prix], which is obviously an important home race for us, right after it. Then Canadian nationals will be quickly after that, and we have a strong Canadian contingent on the team."
"It's unfortunate because the old race was fantastically organized and well supported and was a real tradition as the best race in North America," Jackson said. "So it's sad it couldn't be revived, but hopefully we'll get a different organization at some point and a different team of people that can pull it off and keep it going."
By most accounts the race was a huge success last year, attracting international talent as one of the last chances to earn UCI points before the London Olympic Games. Specialized-lululemon's Evelyn Stevens won the race before heading to the Olympics in late July. Both Heal and Jackson lauded last year's event and expressed hope that the race would eventually return.
"It was an awesome race last year," Heal said. "The European teams that came over and did it really appreciated how well it was run and how big the whole race was. I think there would have been a lot of teams ready to come back to it this year. Having the Tour Tracker and stuff like that for a women's race was great, and I'm hoping this race or another race will come back and promote the women in the same kind of way."
Jackson said she traveled to Idaho for a stage last year and was also impressed with how well the race was run.
"The athletes were treated incredibly well and it was very, very well organized," Jackson said. "So it's just too bad they couldn't keep it going for longer. It's unfortunate and I hope it turns around, and I actually think it will. Women bring a lot to sponsors. I think that people just need to find the right return on investment for their sponsors in the women's market, and I think it should thrive."
The cancellation leaves the US without any UCI races for women, although the race being planned for Philadelphia on June 2 could possibly return as a UCI event. Organizers of that race said they're planning an announcement next week. In the meantime, Jackson said, she will continue to send her riders over to Europe to gain valuable international experience and UCI points.
"It's so important for their development and for making the Olympics and world championships," Jackson said. "So I just have to keep sending them to Europe. It would be great if we could get some more UCI racing going here in North America. The fields here are thriving. I think the sport is thriving in women's cycling; I mean there seems to be a lot of interest. It's just going to take some time."
One point Jackson wanted to emphasize is that the cancellation should not be viewed as a statement about the health of women's cycling or cycling in general.
"It's just unfortunate," she said, "but it had nothing to do with Lance [Armstrong] or anything like that. It was just that [race organizers] didn't have a solid team in place, so it shouldn't fall on the sport at all. I think women's cycling is thriving and I think there's a lot of sponsor interest in women's cycling. It's got nothing to do with any of that. It's just that [race owner Exergy Development Group] took on a lot, and I guess they can't back it up."