Friday, September 11, 2009

Tour of Missouri Stage 4

St. James to Jefferson City

What an exciting race! Let’s see if I can summarize what’s happened so far: Early stages favored the sprinters, and Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia-HTC) was in the yellow jersey and looking good. But this morning he announced he was out of the race: Respiratory troubles. And another big favorite, Christian Vande Velde (Team Garmin), had to bow out at the beginning of Stage 2, as he’d broken his hand in a crash seconds before the finish in Stage 1.

At this point, there’s no obvious race leader overall. J. J. Haedo of Team Saxo Bank is in yellow now, with Thor Hushovd of Cervelo TestTeam in second. These guys are still pretty specialized in sprinting. Of the heavy hitters whose names you might recognize, George Hincapie is currently 21st in the rankings, Levi Leipheimer is 41st, David Zabriskie is 56th, and Jens Voigt is 99th.

It didn’t help that there was a crash in the very last turn before the finish—in downtown Jeff City, a left turn onto High Street at the bottom of the hill below the finish line—that Hincapie and a number of other riders were involved in.

Stage 5 in Sedalia tomorrow is a time trial, where racers are released one by one to race a 19-mile course where their only opponent is the clock. There are no teammates to draft behind. At the end of tomorrow, we expect the sprint specialists to fall back some in the rankings and for others to rise. We’ve never watched a time trial before. It should be really fun!

A Few Words on the Tour of Missouri in General

The Tour of Missouri is a wonderful thing, for a lot of reasons, and it annoys me that it has become somewhat politicized. Yes, the executive director and most visible cheerleader for the race is Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican. And yes, state finances are extremely tight, and the state puts out money to host this event.

There was a time earlier this year when some in state government were suggesting eliminating state funding for the Tour, which would effectively shut it down. Maybe they didn’t really think it would happen—maybe they were just suggesting it as a possibility—but to me the move smelled like partisanship, regarding a project that both Democrats and Republicans should line up behind.

I understand that the return on the investment greatly outweighs the expenditure, and the returns will keep coming in over time.

Here are some things I’ve noticed.

It’s good for big cities as well as for small towns and all in between. Tourism. Publicity. This is truly a world-class sporting event, with some of the best racers in the world competing. Our race is watched from all over the world, and people come from all over to follow the tour day by day. Tonight I’ll bet all the motel rooms in town are full. And the restaurants I’m sure did a great business.

Mayor Landwehr got to say a few words welcoming visitors to Jefferson City. And a little later, he got to give the Key to the City to J. J. Haedo, stage winner and new owner of the yellow jersey. The first time Haedo has worn one!

Each host city gets special attention—Chillicothe, for instance, is the “Home of Sliced Bread,” and you can be sure they’ll get that fun and funky message across day after tomorrow. How many bottles of wine do you suppose St. James Winery sold today to tourists before the race began? And the awards ceremony today took place in front of the gorgeous Missouri State Capitol; people from all over the world saw our state government building!

Missouri’s rich natural beauty is highlighted as racing fans all over the world watch videos of their heroes speeding up and down forested hills in the Ozarks, through prairies, past ripening crop fields, and up Market Street in St. Louis to finish in sight of the tremendously soaring Gateway Arch.

Local industries get in the act as sponsors; Missouri’s wine producers award the winners with big beautiful bottles of Missouri Norton; Michelob of St. Louis’s Anheuser-Busch sponsors the King of the Mountains jersey; and loads of smaller organizations and companies get their word out in the booths that set up at each start and finish location. In Jeff City, the local Optimists club had a bicycle obstacle course for kids and was passing out free bike helmets for children.

And the Missouri Farm Bureau has sponsored “Spirit Awards”—a thousand-dollar grant for community development—each day for the best city the tour passes through. Today, the dink town of Belle, Mo. got the award—they had put up a huge arch of balloons for the riders to pass under as a welcome to their town.

Then, each town that has won one of these awards is in the running for a final Spirit Award, which I think the Farm Bureau representative said is a five-thousand-dollar grant. This is seriously good stuff for towns like Belle, pop. 1,344.

Another wonderful thing about this race, though it is rather hard to quantify, is the long-term effect on Missourians’ health. Bicycling is an activity in which almost anybody with an able body can participate, and this race definitely gets you enthused about cycling.

I quote Lt. Gov. Kinder’s welcome statement in the Official Tour Guide to the race: “I want to see our children put down the game controllers, get away from the television, and put handlebars in their hands. Moms and dads will rediscover that a bike ride with their kids is not only healthy, but quality family time.” Here, here!

Another intangible is that bicycle racing is good for America—here is a sport that is truly international; not like our “World Series” or “Superbowl” where only North America is involved. Cycling is also a sport where the participants are indeed very sporting. Yes, there is fierce competition; yes, there is definitely friction among the competitors and sometimes even within a team. But it’s not like U.S. pro sports where drawn-out, angry verbal exchanges are tolerated or even expected, and brawls are relatively common. We Americans need more examples of true sportsmanship, and we need to compete in more sports with other nations, and not just in the Olympics.

So those are some of my thoughts after watching today’s race.

By the way, here is a “George-Lucky” photo that Sue took this afternoon: George Hincapie is at the left, in the red, white, and blue togs. Yay, George! Allez, allez!

If you have a chance, try to see some of the remaining stages!

Tomorrow: Stage 5, Sedalia, the time trial; start and finish is at the State Fairgrounds. First rider goes out at 2 p.m.; the last one comes in around 5 p.m.

Saturday: Stage 6, Chillicothe to St. Joseph. Leave Chillicothe at 1 p.m.; ETA in St. Joe is 5:30. (That’s 110 miles they’ll be riding.)

Sunday: Stage 7, Kansas City circuit race; start at 2 p.m. and finish around 4:30. Start and finish are at Union Station, including the final awards ceremony for the overall winners.

For more info on the routes, for ETAs for specific points along the routes, and other details, see

I leave you with a picture of the Lincoln University marching band playing on the steps of the Capitol, and another image of the LU color guard holding the Missouri state flag. If none of the stuff I have said so far has made any sense, maybe these photos will get it across.

(Special thanks for Sue Ferber for letting me use some of her fabulous photographs of today’s stage!)

(Note: This post was written the evening of Thursday, Sept. 10, the day of Stage 4, and merely posted on 9/11/09.)

1 comment:

jdlandwehr said...

Hey! Great post. Hello!
There is life in mid-Missouri.
John Landwehr