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Given the shuttering of the Tour of California and several other men’s bike races in recent years, the inaugural Maryland Classic has become one of the country’s top races before it ever even staged its first running. Along with the Tour of Utah, the event was set to be one of only two American races this year holding the prestigious ProSeries designation with the UCI.
The one-day event scheduled for Sunday, September 6, was to be comprised of two loops through the rolling hills of northern Maryland with a finishing circuit in the Harbor East area of downtown Baltimore. Race planners anticipated having six to eight WorldTour teams involved, along with several domestic and European ProTeam level entrants and a few top domestic teams. At least 100,000 spectators were expected to cheer on the teams along the race route. A health and wellness festival was planned along with several other fan experiences including a fundraising ride. Unlike many other major U.S. road races, this event was fully-subscribed through sponsorships and civic support. The event was on track to become a major fixture in the domestic racing scene.
But race officials – along with their State, City and Baltimore Country partners – announced Thursday that the new race would be postponed until next year, due to the on-going concerns about the coronavirus pandemic which is plaguing all of sports.
“Baltimore and the State of Maryland should be confident, that while we’re postponing this event because it’s the right thing to do, we’ll be back bigger and better in 2021,” said Maryland Cycling Classic’s chair John Kelly, also an event sponsor and president of Baltimore-based Kelly Benefit Strategies. “UnitedHealthcare’s commitment and leadership has been outstanding during this time.”
But on the flip side, there was also some good news. The race announced that global corporate giant United Healthcare has signed on as the presenting sponsor of the race, to support the race in 2021, with an option to continue title sponsorship for another two years after 2021. With the current situation across the world of sport, and particularly given cycling’s unique sponsorship challenges, all parties were pleased that the financial security of this promising new event has been assured.
“UnitedHealthcare’s partnership with the Maryland Cycling Classic provides a fantastic opportunity to bring elite cycling to Baltimore while promoting a healthy lifestyle,” said Joe Ochipinti, CEO of UnitedHealthcare’s Mid-Atlantic region. “While holding off on large gatherings right now is a necessity, we look forward to presenting this unique international sporting event to the millions of people we serve across Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic region when it safely kicks off next year.”
The race has also secured a financial commitment from the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore for the next three years. “The great state of Maryland remains a beacon for world-class events,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “We’re looking forward to hosting this international sporting event in 2021, while keeping public health and safety at the forefront of our planning. Maryland has deep roots in cycling and this race will mark a new era for the sport in our state.”
The event is owned by Sport and Entertainment Corporation of Maryland. President Terry Hasseltine said he was obviously disappointed to have to postpone the event this year, but added, “our perspective right now has to be on maintaining our social responsibility. At the same time, we have a lot of good news to share, and we’re looking forward to putting the international spotlight on Baltimore and State of Maryland in 2021.”
American bike racers were also excited about being able to race a major one-day event on their own home turf. Gavin Mannion of Rally Cycling, winner of the 2018 Colorado Classic said, “As an American athlete, it’s exciting to have a UCI ProSeries one-day event in the U.S. Since I’ve been a pro cyclist, it seems like the U.S. has lacked a good one-day race, so, I’m already looking forward to next year.”
Medalist Sports, Inc. is the event manager and affiliate King of the Mountain Sports (KOM) Marketing is the sponsorship, marketing, and communications agency. Chris Aronhalt, owner of Medalist Sports commented, “Postponement is the best decision for the future of the Maryland Cycling Classic, as well as the Baltimore community. We share in the disappointment with the worldwide fans and all who celebrate the sport of cycling, but we have to comply with the challenges that the pandemic has presented. However, I think the future is bright, especially with UnitedHealthcare’s support.”
Race leaders also hinted at the idea that this event could eventually be combined with a couple of other one-day events to become a sort of Triple Crown of top American events.
“Despite the current global situation, we’ve been able to work through the challenges with our corporate sponsors, including the great team at UnitedHealthcare,” said Steve Brunner, President of KOM Sports. “Postponing the event wasn’t an easy decision given all the successful work done to date on fundraising and logistics, but our goal has to be to keep the integrity of the event and public safety at its highest.”
Despite the global lockdown currently halting almost all sporting events around the world, pro cycling is wrestling with the logistics of how to get back on the road later this year. Many events have already been canceled, and although the UCI has a plan to restart racing in August, many worry that the dates could be pushed back further, and that more events may suffer. The United States in particular has seen a decline in top-level cycling events over the last few years and many amateur events canceling recently. Hence, the ability of this new Maryland race to not only achieve Pro Series status but also tie up some measure of financial security represents a definite bright spot for the sport.