The Tour of America – The Forgotten Grand Tour

Back in October 2007, ProCycling magazine carried a piece about the Vuelta, which concluded that whilst ‘once related alongside the Giro, the race is now a distant third in the major tour pecking order’.  At the same time, the new American stage races, in Georgia, the newly run Tour of Missouri as well as the second edition of the Tour of California had all been lauded for the fresh perspective they had offered bike racing, opening up the North American continent and perhaps finally driving through the ‘Lance Effect’ that had been so long predicted. By 2009, the Californian race could boast men like Mark Cavendish and Fabian Cancellara on its roster of stage winners, and moved the race the following year from its February slot to May to compete against the mighty Giro d’Italia, setting up a thousand articles on the ‘Fourth Grand Tour’ and traditionalists worrying that the European hegemony on Grand Tours was about to be broken.

Not exactly the most exemplary podium for various reasons…

Yet in 2012, The Tours of Georgia and Missouri have vanished from the calender. The Tour of California’s move to May coincided with a resurgent Giro, which had a remarkable 2010 edition, and the race has overshadowed it’s youthful American cousin since, even suggesting it would invade the shores of the country to start the Italian grand Tour in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, the Grand Tour that was more likely to be replaced by the stars and stripes, the Vuelta, has thrived since ASO bought a large share in the event and dragged it away from flat runs across parched deserts to what was probably the best grand tour of the year (more on that tomorrow), rather then the struggling event that was considering moving back to April in 2007. And somewhere in all this, the Tour of America was born with much fanfare, then quietly died.

In Late 2007, with American cycling on quite  a high given the myriad on new races and the Discovery team winning the tour (albeit with Contador), a Malyasian born US-based businessman, Frank Arokiasamy, announced that the next year, in September, a 4,500 mile, 27 stage race would be created – The inaugural Tour of America. Some of the stages would be over 400km in length, recalling memories of the sadism of the early Tour de France, and was announced as thus:

Stage
Date
Start
Finish
Miles/Km
Cumulative
Distance
Prologue
9/06/08#
Central Park
Ground Zero
6/10
6/10
1
9/07/08
Newark, NJ
Washington, DC
220/360
226/370
2
9/08/08
Washington,DC
Pittsburgh, PA
244/390
470/760
3
9/09/08
Pittsburgh, PA
Columbus, OH
185/295
655/1055
4
9/10/08
Columbus, OH
Columbus, IN
200/320
855/1375
5
9/11/08#
Columbus, IN
Indianapolis, IN
45/75
900/1450
6
9/12/08
Indianapolis, IN
St Louis, MO
250/400
1150/1850
7
9/13/08
St Louis, MO
Carbondale, IL
130/210
1280/2060
8
9/14/08
Carbondale, IL
Nashville, TN
205/330
1485/2390
Rest Day
9/15/08
Nashville, TN
Chattanooga, TN
9
9/16/08*
Chattanooga, TN
Asheville, NC
230/370
1725/2760
10
9/17/08
Asheville, NC
Atlanta, GA
210/335
1925/3095
11
9/18/08
Columbus, GA
Montgomery, AL
80/125
2005/3220
12
9/19/08
Greenville, AL
New Orleans, LA
260/410
2265/3630
13
9/20/08
Baton Rogue, LA
Beaumont, TX
180/290
2445/3920
14
9/21/08
Houston, TX
Austin, TX
160/255
2605/4175
15
9/22/08
Austin, TX
Abilene, TX
250/400
2855/4575
Rest Day
9/23/08
Abilene, TX
Lubbock, TX
16
9/24/08
Lubbock, TX
Santa Rosa, NM
205/325
3060/4900
17
9/25/08*
Santa Rosa, NM
Chinmayo, NM
140/225
3200/5125
18
9/26/08*
Santa Fe, NM
Farmington, NM
210/355
3410/5460
19
9/27/08*
Shiprock, NM
Grand Canyon, AZ
250/400
3660/5860
20
9/28/08
Williams, AZ
Las Vegas, NV
190/300
3850/6160
21
9/29/08#
Boulder City, NV
Las Vegas, NV
50/80
3900/6240
Rest Day
9/30/08
Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas, NV
22
10/1/08
Las Vegas, NV
Tonopah, NV
210/335
4110/6575
23
10/02/08*
Tonopah, NV
Bridgeport, CA
160/255
4270/6830
24
10/03/08#
Bridgeport, CA
Lake Tahoe, CA
80/130
4350/6960
25
10/04/08
Lake Tahoe, CA
San Jose, CA
220/350
4570/7310
26 10/05/08
San Jose, CA
San Francisco, CA 130/210 4700/7520
Pretty much everyone’s reaction of seeing the above route.

 

The race was, as expected, gawped at not only for its obscene length and scale, with the majority of the stages over 300km, further then the length of the longest one day classic, Milan San-Remo, and with ridiculous 80 mile individual time trials, but also for the time frame it was expected to be complete – having been announced in September 2007, the race was going to start just a year later. Unfortunately for the organisers, not everyone was too pleased with either of these things, and whilst the riders may have appreciated the three nights in Las Vegas, they certainly didn’t want to be riding 190 miles every day.

Organiser Arokiasamy was thus subject to much ridicule – he claimed to have been thinking of the idea for 5 years, yet it resembled a race that you or I had scribbled on the back of a envelope (indeed, just like my own Tour de France 2013 route – see https://sicycle.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/2013-tour-de-france-my-route-part-one/ and https://sicycle.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/2013-tour-de-france-my-route-part-two/) with no idea of what really constituted a cycle race. Whilst there was much fanfare for the claimed $10million in prize money, with $1million going to the winner, the 25 organising team eventually relented and toned down the route to something somewhat more sensible – a more obvious three week Grand Tour:

Stage

Date

Start

Finish

Miles/Km

Cumulative

Distance

1

9/06/08

Central Park, NY

Philadelphia, PA

122/195.2

122/195.2

2

9/07/08

Philadelphia, PA

College Park, MD

135/216

257/411.2

3

9/08/08##

Olney, MD

Frederick, MD

30/48

287/450.2

4

9/09/08

Winchester, VA

Morgantown, WV

139/222.4

426/681.6

5

9/10/08

Fairmont, WV

Athens, OH

142/227.2

568/908.8

6

9/11/08

McArthur, OH

Cincinnati, OH

125/200

693/1108.8

7

9/12/08#

Greenfield, IN

Indianapolis, IN

27/43.2

720/1152

8

9/13/08

Casey, IL

St. Louis, MO

143/228.8

863/1380.8

9

9/14/08

St. Louis, MO

Columbia, MO

134/214.4

997/1595.2

Rest Day

9/15/08

Columbia, MO

Denver, CO

 (via Air)

10

9/16/08*

Denver, CO

Buena Vista, CO

120/192

1117/1787.2

11

9/17/08*

Poncha Springs, CO

Pagosa Springs, CO

135/216

1252/2003.2

12

9/18/08

Farmington, NM

Gallup, NM

118/188.8

1370/2192

13

9/19/08*

Window Rock, AZ

Winslow, AZ

125/200

1495/2392

14

9/20/08*

Cameron, AZ

Williams, AZ

113/180.8

1608/2572.8

15

9/21/08

Kingman, AZ

Las Vegas, NV

110/176

1718/2748.8

16 9/22/08# Las Vegas, NV  Las Vegas, NV  35/56  1753/2804.8 

Rest Day

9/23/08 

Las Vegas, NV 

Barstow, CA 

17

9/24/08*

Ridgecrest, CA

Whitney Portal, CA

92/147.2

1845/2952

18

9/25/08*

Big Pine, CA

Yosemite, CA

118/188.8

1963/3140.8

19

9/26/08

Harden Flat, CA

Sacramento, CA

127/203.2

2090/3344

20

9/27/08#

Napa, CA

Santa Rosa, CA

40/64

2130/3408

21

9/28/08

Santa Rosa, CA

Palo Alto, CA

107/171.2

2237/3579.2

This new route cut out the majority of the meandering around states designed just to meet the criteria of reaching every state every 5 years, and indeed drawing a line across the map as such.  Now that the route was more acceptable, the details could start to flow – the race would avoid any interstates, would invite 25 of the worlds best teams, and have various leaders jerseys. Unfortunately, the descriptions of these weren’t exactly very well thought out, giving the race no separate identity from other Grand Tours and showing a poor grasp of cycling history. The leader’s jersey, for instance, would be yellow, as ‘The tradition of using the color yellow to signify the race leader is over 100 years old in professional cycling.’  Perhaps this helps understand why the original stage distances where so long – the organisers imply had terrible numeracy skills, as the first recorded yellow jersey was given to Belgian Phillippe Thys in 1913, but only officially awarded in 1919 to Euguene Christope, he of the broken Tourmalet forks. Quite how 1919 or indeed 1919 plus 100 equals 2007, I’m not sure, seeing as 2013 will see the 100th anniversary of the jersey.

It was quickly obvious what race the organisers had been watching to decide upon the jersey colours. With yellow already pinned down for the GC, the points jersey was to be green, the mountains jersey polka dots (colour wasn’t specified) and the youth jersey was unsurprisingly white. As if made aware of this cloning of the French race, two more jerseys were to be included: a blue jersey, which would add together the riders placing on every stage, so that the rider with the least points and thus most consistent would win, and a ‘Best Country’ competition that would take the top three riders from each competing nation. Hmm.

Somewhere along the line, the race vanished though, having first moved to 2009 on the basis that the ‘sponsors preferred that’, before vanishing altogether from anyones knowledge. Indeed, the website, thetourofamerica.com, no longer exists, nor seemingly does the North Carolina based Aqu. Inc. company who were to organise it. In 2010, Frank A. claimed it was 50-50 if the race would ever surface by 2011, which, obviously, it hasnt. So why did it fail?

Ok, we get it, you really like this Big Bear climb California. Can you please go up something else though?!

Aside from the obvious organisational perils, which seemed to assume that a Grand Tour organiser can choose the route, when in fact they are more reliant on cities bidding for the race to come to them, The Tour of America died because it was simply too big, too ridiculous, and because the historical bastions of cycling, Spain, France and Italy are too far embedded into the fabric of the sport to seriously be challenged. At the time, the sport seemed to be experiencing something of a global shift – the US was coming up with plenty of week long stage races, the Vuelta was frankly dire, and of course anti doping efforts were, supposedly anyway, stripping out all the dead wood to replace the fields with fresh, clean young saplings. In the pre-economic crisis days, of course such an ambitious race in a time of turmoil and change for the sport was going to look possible, but where the same idea to be pitched today, it would simply be laughed off, rather then laughed off with a hint of ‘well, actually…’

This 2009 Tour of California image sums up the grandiose Tour of America plans – looked good on paper, not so good in reality.

The USA would do better concentrating on it’s week long stage races, as this is where its strength lies. As well all know, the country is bloody massive, and a tour of California could probably build it self up to a three week race if it wanted, but would be more sensible not to. What must change though is an obsession with structure, known climbs and time trialling – whilst the races first succeeded because they seemed fresh and introduced climbs we hadn’t seen before back in Europe, the fact they put the same ones in every year has brought the races to a stagnant point. All of them seem to think time trialling is necessary (probably because it will ensure that one of the American heroes, who it seems have to win the race or else, can triumph), and that the ‘known climbs’ have to be in, else it wont be a ‘proper’ race – some invention on the route would be more interesting. Whilst a race between New York and Washington DC pops out on paper, you must remember the middle bit is just as important, and this is where the US races go wrong – they seems so desperate to romantasise their races by visiting cities that they forget that what they are creating is, in fact, a race.

Still, the Lance-inspired generation should be coming through soon and taking to the European races, with Van Garderen and Phinney already there, which is a good job given the winners list of the Tours of California, Georgia et al read as a list of the US Postal and Jonathan Vaughters ‘clean team’ brigade. Hopefully if these riders can succeed in Europe then draw riders back across the Atlantic, the US can build on the shattered foundations of its Noughties successes and become a cycling super power again.

But an American Grand Tour? Sorry guys. The Tour of West Coast or the Tour of the East Coast might work, but nothing more.

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