By Jason Sumner, Special to VeloNews
Normally if a group of event organizers announced a multi-day bike race that was slated to commence in less than year, but had no title sponsor, a route or even exact dates, you’d chalk it up as the standard baseless hyperbole that has so often characterized proposed cycling events in the U.S.
But when AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke backed up the announcement of what will be the inaugural Tour of California with the boldest of statements, you have to believe this event is actually going to get off the ground as planned come February 2006.
“The decision we had to make at AEG, and with our other partners, was: Are we prepared to go this alone if we don’t sell any sponsorship? Are we willing to finance this thing completely for five years, which would be about a $35 million commitment?” Leiweke said during a news conference held at the ritzy Stadium Club, which overlooks the soccer field at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. “The answer is yes. If we have to spend $35 million to build the race we will.”
But no matter who ends up footing the bill, this eight-day, UCI-sanctioned men’s road stage race is primed to be the biggest event that’s descended on U.S. cycling in years.
“We are looking at the great cycling events around the world and aspiring to become one of those great events,” continued Leiweke. “We are looking at the Tour de France as our model, and looking at the Tour de France as what we want to be one day when we grow up.
“It took us a while to get here because this is not an inexpensive endeavor. But our company has committed the funding to give this race the right chance. It’s not going to be a one- or two-year and out deal. This is a long-term commitment. We are making a commitment to this sport and a long-term commitment to the Tour of California. We know success won’t come right away. We know it’s going to take some time to reach the level that we want to accomplish.”
Leiweke and AEG certainly appear to have the right people behind them. Speakers at the Friday afternoon press conference included UCI president Hein Verbruggen, USA Cycling CEO Gerard Bisceglia and California Secretary of Education Richard Riordan.
Riordan, a cyclist himself, called the race an opportunity to show the world that California “is the greatest place in the world. The Tour of California will show people that California is not just a place, it’s a way of life.”
Verbruggen was equally effusive, gushing that “if ever there was a situation where all the necessary components were in place for a great race, it is here.”
As for the nuts and bolts of the race, managing director Robert Colarossi said that final decisions on dates and the race route would come “sometime this summer.” But assuming a mid-February start, the event would fit nicely into the existing early-season slate, allowing ProTour teams to go from Australia’s Tour Down Under to the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, and then fly across the Pacific for the race in California, before returning to Europe for the start of the main racing season.
“AEG and our partners are all dedicated to making this one of the two or three best cycling events in all of the world,” said Leiweke. “The best athletes will come here. We will have the most prize money in the history of cycling in the U.S. We are going to do this the right way. We are going to take our time and build something great. And strive to be a great event like the Tour de France.”