Tuesday, September 11, is the beginning of the inaugural Tour of Missouri. It's also the final chance for American cycling fans to see the Discovery Channel team compete. The team, which announced earlier this year that they will be disbanding following the 2007 season, will include Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, U.S.A. Cycling National Championship winner Levi Leipheimer and runner-up George Hincapie, and Yaroslav Papovych, who finished eighth at this year's Tour de France.
The Tour of Missouri begins in Kansas City and will cover 600 miles before finishing in St. Louis on Sunday, September 16th. More info at www.tourofmissouri.com. Versus looks to be airing taped coverage on Saturday, September 22 and Wednesday, the 26th.
Despite cycling's recent struggles and scandals, it's still sad that a great team like Discovery can buckle under the pressure of securing sponsorship. While they are one of the more expensive teams competing, they're also one of the more visible. From Lance Armstrong to Contador, Discovery has claimed several Tour de France podium spots since taking over sponsorship of the team from the U.S. Postal Service. Currently, they're the only American team competing on the international tour.
It'll be a tough void to fill. The team earned its following through victories--largely due to Armstrong. Team Slipstream, which prides itself on a rigorous drug-testing policy, has since signed several top tier riders but may not compete in the Tour de France until 2009. The Toyota-United Cycling Team has a very visible presence in American cycling, but doesn't compete internationally.
I'm jealous of the lucky fans who will line the roads of Missouri in the next several days. This is, however, an inaugural race. Along with the young Tour of California, perhaps we're seeing a resurgence of stage racing in America. Maybe without the cycling landscape here dominated by how well Discovery will do, new faces and teams will emerge, bringing with them younger, more eager fans.