By Andrew J. Bernstein
Over the years, New York State has hosted a fair share of top-tier cycling events, from six-day races at Madison Square Garden in the 1890s to the Tour de Trump, raced in the Catskill Mountains 100 years later. This year, the newly-elevated Tour de New York, (a UCI 2.2 event), will open a new chapter in the state’s racing history, bringing high-level competition to the western part of the state, centering a six-day event in the City of Rochester.
The Tour de New York, which was first held as the one-day Saturn Rochester Criterium in 2004, became a UCI event in 2007 – the only such event in North America that season. The following year, the race turned into a three-day omnium including a crit’, time trial and road race, and drawing about 60,000 spectators, say organizers.
The global economic climate in 2009 forced organizers to delay plans to expand the event to six days, but Race Director Todd Scheske says the race is back on track for 2010.
This year’s Tour de New York (August 7 to 12) will begin with a twilight criterium in Rochester. A 20k time trial along Lake Ontario will serve as the second stage on the following day. The race then continues with a series of four road stages, with courses between 80 and 115 miles. The precise routes for those stages are still being determined, said Scheske, but each is slated to begin and end in western New York towns proximate to Rochester, allowing teams base their operations out of one hotel for the race’s duration.
Scheske noted that the city of Rochester, which understands the power of a high-profile race to draw tourists to a rebounding city such as theirs, is providing significant funding for the event. He added that Mayor Robert Duffy, who assumed office in 2006, has recognized the value in the race, and has been very supportive.
“He’s interested in doing things that are good for the city and the region,” said Scheske. “It’s good to have world-class athletes come here, because usually we’re a B-league town, we have B-league hockey and baseball, but we can be an A-league town.”
Duffy’s press office did not return calls requesting comment.
Previous incarnations of the Rochester race have drawn A-league talent, including world and national champions in various disciplines, Scheske said, recalling a conversation with race announcer Alan Cote, in which the two had to decide who among the national standouts would receive call-ups, and who wouldn’t.
“We had to stop calling people to the line unless they were a world or Olympic champion, because we were out of time, there were so many good riders, but we couldn’t take 30 minutes calling people to the line,” he said, “It’s pretty gratifying to see people wanting to come here.”
The promoter’s overall goal, Scheske said, is to design a race that riders and teams want to attend. Despite dubbing the event “Tour de New York,” the event is centered around Rochester and western New York to avoid reliance on a Tour de France-style mobile city, and to ease strain on the athletes and teams.
“We’re not trying to be the Tour de France or the Tour of California, and part of that is having riders start in a central location, and then come back to it,” he said. “That frees up the teams from logistical things as well. It’s not that we don’t want to move across the state, it’s that we don’t want to mimic everyone, we want to have our own identity.”
So far, Scheske said that he didn’t have many solid commitments from teams looking to participate, but is working hard to recruit numerous domestic Division II and III teams. In addition, he noted that Pro Tour team Fuji-Servetto had shown some interest, as well as other European teams.
“You see some of the top-level riders saying that maybe they can’t make it, but recommending it to friends on lower-level teams, who might be able to come,” said Scheske. “It’s all about growing the sport and taking it to a new level, creating a race that people want to watch and want to participate.”
That type of interest, Scheske said, bodes well for the prospect of the race elevating to a UCI 2.1 in the future, which is the organizers’ goal.
In addition to the city of Rochester, Scheske noted that promoters are working to negotiate additional sponsorship, and would likely be in a position to announce sponsors later this spring.
For more information, visit www.tourdenewyork.com.