The start of last year’s Stage 6 took riders past Hermann’s historic buildings enroute to a finish in St. Charles. More than 435,000 spectators turned out for the event in 2008, making this one of the largest tourism events the state has ever witnessed.
Like a fine wine, the Tour of Missouri professional cycling race has come of age.
“We’ve only been running three years, but it’s grown in stature,” says Jim Birrell, race director for the event. “These pro teams were coming to us wanting to take part. They know the hospitality Missouri extends. It’s been overwhelming and they really appreciate it.”
When the race kicks off Sept. 7, cycling fans from around the world will focus their attention on Missouri, while those close enough to watch the Tour of Missouri firsthand will ring the traditional cowbells as they cheer on their favorites. The event is now the No. 2 U.S. race and will feature many of the riders who competed in the Tour de France.
Riders will battle for seven days, traveling a total of 612 miles along a route that includes many of the state’s top tourism destinations, small towns and rural roads. New this year is an east to west route and several new host cities.
Birrell says start and finish cities are great places to see the riders, but other opportunities exist along the route. He recommends logging on to the tour Web site, where route information, including anticipated arrival times, will be posted.
“Start lines are a great place for new viewers to the sport,” he says. “It’s kind of like pit row at a NASCAR event. Also any point along the route that has elevation, that will slow them down.”
He says this year’s course was designed so spectators can see the start, catch riders along the route and still beat them back to the finish.
Here’s a stage-by-stage look at what to expect during the 2009 tour.
Three international riders fight for second place during the finish of Stage 4 of the 2008 Tour of Missouri in Rolla. From left are Danilo Wyss, Switzerland, Team BMC; Roman Kreuziger, Czech Republic, Team Liquigas; and Eric Baumann, Germany, Team Sparkesse. This year’s race will feature many of the world’s best cyclists including many of the leaders from the Tour de France.
Stage 1: Sept. 7
St. Louis circuit race
Start time: 2:30 p.m.
Tour fans can stake out their favorite St. Louis neighborhood and see the riders 10 times as they complete a fast and flat 75-mile circuit race that will favor sprinters. The race begins and ends downtown within sight of the Arch, Union Station, Busch Stadium and the Old Courthouse. The route goes south into the Soulard Market area past the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, then returns through Lafayette Park.
Local musical talent will be on stage during the race, and organizers have a variety of group rides planned for the holiday weekend leading up to the Labor Day start.
In a city known for its large bicycling contingent, St. Louis has several other races planned for the weekend, including the Gateway Cup criterium and the Tour of Missouri Women’s Series. Recreational rides that follow the tour route and children’s races round out the activities.
Stage 2: Sept. 8
Ste. Genevieve to Cape Girardeau
Start time: 11 a.m.
Missouri’s oldest city plays host to the Stage 2 start, with the peloton passing French Colonial structures dating back to the 1700s before leaving on a hilly course enroute to a finish in Cape Girardeau. Due to the proximity of Interstate 55, visitors will have ample time to hit the quaint shops and historic sites and still catch the riders at other locations, which will include a sprint zone in Perryville. When the riders complete the 112.4 miles, they will face a technical finish on Cape’s riverfront.
The 2008 tour offered shopping opportunities for fans and participants alike.
This stage features rolling hills and several King of the Mountain challenges, with riders earning points for their hill climbing stamina. The area also offers a multitude of wineries on the “Route de Vin.”
Ste. Genevieve organizers have a number of recreational rides planned to get fans in the spirit.
Stage 3: Sept. 9
Farmington to Rolla
Start time: 11 a.m.
As the peloton heads out of the Mineral Area’s largest city, the eventual winner could be determined. This challenging 114.3-mile stage will feature 6,000 total feet of climbing through the rugged St. Francois and Ozark mountains.
Along with lonely stretches of two-lane, the route will pass through the scenic Arcadia Valley, Bixby, Viburnum, Cherryville and Cook Station before reaching the finish line near the campus of Missouri University of Science and Technology.
While waiting for the riders, spectators can take in Farmington’s mansions, the Missouri Mines State Historic Site, Civil War-era Fort Davison, Missouri’s highest point at Taum Sauk Mountain and Dillard Mill, in addition to Rolla’s portion of Route 66.
Stage 4: Sept. 10
St. James to Jefferson City
Start time: 2 p.m.
With both host cities having experience with the race, tour-related activities abound on Stage 4. Last year’s Spirit Award winner St. James pulled out all the stops for 2009, setting the date for its Grape and Fall Festival to coincide with the tour. Music, a grape stomp, spaghetti supper and a children’s “Ride the Route” round out activities.
The later start lets Missouri’s capital capitalize on a finish held just after quitting time for the many downtown state office workers. Jefferson City events start almost a week before the stage takes place, with a ride of the tour route, followed by a chili cookoff, celebrity races, stunt bike exhibition, kids activities and live music.
Inaugural tour winner George Hincapie signs autographs prior to the start in St. Joseph. Hincapie is expected back in 2009 despite an injury during the Tour de France.
This course will be no slouch in terms of hills. As the race leaves St. James, the route takes riders into the Gasconade River Valley and along roller coaster terrain. Riders complete the race with an exciting 900-foot uphill sprint, known as the Capitol Wall.
Stage 5: Sept. 11
Sedalia time trial
Start time: 2 p.m.
Sedalia replaces Branson as this year’s location for the time trial, which will see riders switch to exotic aerodynamic bikes for an all-out effort for the fastest time around a loop. Racers should love the flat and wide open course compared to the lung-busting climbs at last year’s event. Spectators can bring their own bikes and ride the Katy Trail, which will offer three viewing points of the rides.
This stage, sponsored by Missouri’s electric cooperatives, begins at the State Fairgrounds and then moves into the countryside along state Highway B with the finish also on the fairgrounds. The route is 19 miles long.
Look for many vendors in this town that knows how to entertain visitors.
Stage 6: Sept. 12
Chillicothe to St. Joseph
Start time: 1 p.m.
While St. Joe has experience as the host for last year’s tour start, Chillicothe worked harder than any other city to bring the tour to its north Missouri location. The town, known as the birthplace of sliced bread, rolls out the red carpet for guests starting with a weekend Chautauqua arts festival that begins when the tour leaves.
The 110.3-mile route to St. Joseph is considered deceptively hard. While the terrain is flatter than the Ozarks, the relentless wind and rolling terrain will wear down the riders. One excellent viewing area will be at King City, where the wind turbines at Bluegrass Ridge Wind Energy Farm form an exciting backdrop to the race.
Tour fans watch racers during the 2008 time trial in Branson. This year’s time trial moves to Sedalia and will again be sponsored by Missouri’s electric cooperatives.
The finish at St. Joe’s city hall will offer many attractions staged at the nearby park, in addition to the Pony Express Museum, the city’s most famous attraction.
Stage 7: Sept. 13
Kansas City circuit race
Start time: 2 p.m.
Race fans will again have an opportunity to see their favorite riders in action multiple times as the second circuit race in the tour takes place. The route was designed around the city’s many monuments. It begins in the new restaurant and night club area called the Power and Light District and finishes at the landmark Crown Center.
Riders will be challenged by the steep hills and tight corners that could lead to carnage in a close race.
In past years, Kansas City spectators turned out early to claim the best viewing areas, so plan accordingly. Post-race festivities, with the crowning of the Tour of Missouri champion, are a big part of this stage.
For more information on the Tour of Missouri schedules and events, call 573-522-9594 or log on to the tour’s Web site, www.tourofmissouri.com.