Tour of Utah gets a flat tire
After just one run, a lack of funding has put the Tour of Utah bicycle race on hold.
This year's race, scheduled for June 30 through July 7, was canceled Friday by the board of the nonprofit Utah Cycling Partnership Inc. The race's executive director, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, also stepped down.
Wilson could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. When appointed in mid-December, he cited his ability to "raise money well, and I think that's my principal task."
The task apparently proved to be too much. Board member Greg Miller of The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies on Friday would not say how much money was raised toward the estimated $1.5 million cost of the race, noting only that "we were far short of our goal."
"There's a lot of competition out there for corporate sponsorship dollars," said Miller, especially when fundraising efforts started after most companies already had developed their 2007 marketing budgets and decided their money would be spent elsewhere.
In addition, the fundraising window was shortened by six weeks when the race was moved up from last year's dates, Aug. 7-12, to fit better into the International Cycling Union's (ICU) schedule. The ICU had elevated the Tour of Utah's status this year, identifying it as one of 15 races in the USA Cycling Pro Tour.
But that lofty status could not be realized without adequate financial resources - a problem shared by other cycling road races in the United States.
The Tour of Connecticut, scheduled for May, was canceled recently. The U.S. Open Cycling Championships and the Tour of Georgia, both supposed to take place next month, lack key sponsorships.
Earlier this month, published reports said the Georgia race was $1 million short of its sponsorship goal. But the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported March 14 that the deficit had been trimmed to $200,000, improving prospects that the race will proceed April 16-22.
Miller expressed optimism the Tour of Utah will be revived in 2008.
"We'll have 15 months to raise the money, assuming the 2008 race is held in the same time frame, instead of the three months we had this year," he said. "It's certainly not our intent to let it die. But it's not my decision. It's up the various funding resources out there. If the people with the money want this event to happen, it will happen. If the money isn't there, it will be impossible for us to produce this event."
He said the event's lead sponsors, the Larry H. Miller Group and Zions Bank, have agreed to keep their sponsorship revenue in place.
The next six months of fundraising will be critical, Miller said, adding that organizers will huddle with cycling experts to determine what else can be done to make the event prosper.
Utah Sports Commission President Jeff Robbins said he already has been talking with USA Cycling executive Steve Johnson, a former Salt Laker, and officials from Medalist, the company that runs the tours of California and Georgia, about "creating a more strategic approach to cycling in Utah.
"Everyone believes cycling is a good fit for this community. And, certainly, a road race like the Tour of Utah is an element," said Robbins, a Tour of Utah board member. "But a more strategic vision might include mountain biking and BMX, as well."
Jim Fearick, a manager at Contender Bicycles in Salt Lake City, said the race cancellation would not hurt bicycle businesses locally but was disappointing for the sport.
"Cycling was still growing, even after the Tour de France and Floyd Landis, and it would have been nice to keep building that momentum here," he said.
Landis won the 2006 Tour de France but was stripped of the title after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. He is fighting the charges.
Ryan Galbraith/Tribune file photo
Cyclists cast long shadows during the 2006 Tour of Utah. The 2007 race has been canceled.