For the past two seasons, the Amgen Tour of California has included a criterium for women in its schedule, but that bonus race could be on the chopping block for 2010 if a sponsor is not found by the end of this year.
Andrew Messick, president of race organizer AEG Sports, explained to Cyclingnews that tough economic times have made it difficult secure the funds necessary to hold the women's race.
"We had the criteriums in 2008 and 2009 which we felt were very successful, and we always had the intention to support and expand the event in order to showcase women's cycling," Messick said, adding that there were plans to expand the one-race event to a three-race series in 2010.
"But the challenge we face at this point is the expense versus revenue equation. We still need to identify a sponsor. It's something our sales team is actively pursuing, but the men's race has to be our top priority."
As the Amgen Tour of California men's race grows in stature, moving from February to a more desirable May position on the calendar, the state of high-profile women's racing in the USA has gone the opposite direction in recent years.
Despite having the reigning Olympic and World time trial champion Kristin Armstrong in its midst, and one of the most successful international women's racing programs in the world, the USA has only one UCI registered team (Team TIBCO) and just one UCI-classified event for women, the Liberty Classic in Philadelphia.
Team Proman manager Nicola Cranmer was an early backer of the Amgen Tour women's criterium and underscored the importance of having an event for women that takes place in front of a world-wide audience.
"With such a rich women's cycling community in California, with several pro women's teams based in Northern California: ProMan, Webcor, TIBCO, Value Act Capital, and a vibrant local scene, it would be a shame to leave the women out of the ATOC this year," Cranmer said.
"There will be opportunities for the women to race even if it's at the start or finish of a stage with a crit. It's important to women's sponsorship to be able to take advantage of the big rolling media machine of the Tour of California."
Messick agreed that the overhead for the women's race is quite low, and said that he already has the support of the host cities in Sacramento, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz to hold a three-day series of criteriums. But, he said, his organisation must devote its energies to the title bout, the men's stage race.
"Putting on a one-hour women's criterium is a relatively low-cost venture - the largest single cost is the prize money, but our main focus right now has to be getting the core race right."
The clock is running down for a sponsor to be located, as Messick indicated that he would pull the plug on the idea at the end of the year if he doesn't find the funds.
"We need to have this resolved by the end of the year - I don't want to put on a race at the 11th hour. It would not be fair to the teams or the athletes, who have to plan their race schedule in advance, to wait any longer than that."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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