the race is on for the tour of missouri / by Warrior Ant Press Worldwide Anthill Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

The recently ended Tour of Missouri brings to light just how far the reach of politics. Because of that it's sometimes difficult to get an accurate picture of race. The Tour of Missouri, let's call it TOM, is a good race. In it's first 3 years, it has consistently fielded some great teams and some top-notch riders. TOM benefits from being one of only 2 pro stage races left in the United States - next year they may be as many as four if Colorado and Georgia return. TOM also benefits from being near the end of the pro racing season but is hurt somewhat by occurring at the same time as the Vuelta E'spana, the last of the 3 Grand European stage races of the season. However, because few riders have the strentgh and stamina to compete in the Giro D'Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta in the same year, some teams are looking for other venues. For pro teams with largely American sponsors like Garmin Slipstream and Columbia HTC the TOM provides them the perfect opportunity to showcase their talent on American soil. And because the TOM is a 7 day race rather than a 3 week race, it makes even more manageable from a financial standpoint.

One thing that TOM lacks, which it will never have, and will always prevent it from becoming a truly great race is mountains. We have hills in Missouri not mountains. Hills, especially the rollers that dominant our state, as any weekend cyclist knows, can be tough. In Missouri they can seem to go on and on forever. As tough as they may be to negotiate for amateurs, they aren't long enough to bring the kind of separation needed in a pro race to really matter. This is why the breaks during the long road races are always brought back and eventually won by the sprinters. Teams with strong sprinters like Columbia HTC love this because it means that they have a chance to win stages and gain media attention.

Columbia HTC sprinter, Mark Cavendish, was able to win the first 2 stages of the TOM, wear the yellow jersey for a few days and grab lots of media attention. Other sprinters, Thor Hushvold of Cervelo Test and J.J. Haedo of Saxo Bank were also in the mix most every day there was a field sprint. In fact they all won a stage and given how the bonus points were awarded they traded wearing the yellow jersey at some point during the race. However, all but Hushvold eventually abandoned the race. Sprinters may win the majority of the stages but in a race like TOM, without mountain stages, the eventual winner will be the person who claims victory in the time trial.

This year it was Dave Zabriski of Garmin Slipstream. Zabriski, the US national time trail champion 4 years running, is no slouch. He holds the record for the fastest time trial in Tour de France history. The TOM victory was Zabriski's first General Classification win of his career and was due to his ability as a time trialist.

Now that the race has ended another race has begun. How to keep the race funded for 2010. Lt. Governor Peter Kinder who single-handily has been responsible for keeping the race going over the last 3 years faces a lot of opposition from the Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. It's a bit odd that cycling, which largely draws a Democratic crowd, isn't in the favor of the Governor but that where the politics comes into play. Kinder and Nixon never talk to one another; Nixon doesn't even return his calls. Kinder has used the race to essentially campaign, without seeming to do so, for a week a year on taxpayer money. At every venue, Lt. Gov. Kinder is one of the first to speak at the start of each race and the last to leave the podium. Local politicians at every town sing his praises because the race brings a large contingent of tourists as they pass through. They spend money which is why it makes sense for tourism dollars to be spent on the race and why it's a little ridiculous for Gov. Nixon to pooh pah the spending of tax money on the race. Considering how much the state pays to support professional baseball, football, and soccer the 1.5 million seems paltry. The real question is does the investment pay for itself and all indications are that it does so quite well.

Although Missouri companies such as Edward Jones, Drury Inn, and the Farm Bureau also provide sponsorship no one seems to be willing to put up the bucks to have the race named after them. Anheiser-Busch would rather throw $10 million toward NASCAR which might be smart considering that most cyclists pride themselves on drinking better beer.

Most everyone has some connection to cycling and walking around St. Louis and Kansas City it was easy to see just how diverse the interest in cycling remains. Older club and weekend riders, many of who have been riding for years, were out in force, many wearing their charity t-shirts and jerseys of events they have conquered. Then there were the young single-track riders in their retro woolens and sneakers. There were also the serious amateurs in their kits and the families in the matching mountain bikes and Livestrong equipment.

Pro cycling also attracts interest because it's accessible in ways that other professional sporting events are not. Sure the cyclists may whiz by you on the race at speeds approaching 40 mph at times but they are just feet away. Position yourself at the top of a climb and it's easy to see the anguish on their faces. For most other sports you only get those sorts of closeups on television.

Before the races it's also easy for fans to mingle backstage and see the preparations that go into keeping the race moving. Because the races are constantly moving from town to town, the staging areas are portable and run out the backs of tour buses and vans. Mechanics set up popup tents and each day prep the bikes in full view of spectators. This has the added benefit of selling the sponsors and many cyclists are gear heads who are frequently searching for the latest technology. Pro bikes are the place to see the latest in streamlined technology before it hits the stores.

It will be a tough road for the TOM next year because Nixon is vindictive. Maybe come Christmas, Nixon will find a shiny new bike underneath his Christmas tree and have a change of heart.