Kinder sees Tour of Missouri become reality

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
The Discovery Channel team will be among the field when the Tour of Missouri begins today in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Daniel Maurer)

The Cape Girardeau native helps bring elite race to Missouri.

Peter Kinder laughs at questions about him competing in the Tour of Missouri bicycle race, which starts today.

"A lot of people have asked me, 'Are you going to be in this race?'" Kinder, Missouri's lieutenant governor, said. "The answer is, 'No, I'm not a professional. I'm a Sunday afternoon amateur, at best.'

"The eyes of the cycling world are going to be on Missouri this week and rightly so. We have many of the top competitors in the world."

Kinder, who serves as the chairman of the Missouri Tourism Commission, has helped guide the Tour from a concept to reality. The race will feature 15 teams of the top cyclists in the world, including the 2007 Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador. Amateur riders like Kinder would never survive against the elite athletes who will compete.

"It's been enormously gratifying and worth every bit of the two years plus on this project, to bring the largest sporting event ever held in Missouri to our state, and for it to be a free event," he said.

Kinder said businessman Cary Summers came up with the idea for the Tour of Missouri. He pointed to the success of the Tour de Georgia and the Tour of California as proof that a similar event could succeed in Missouri.

"He's the one who made us aware there was the Tour de Georgia, attracting 600,000 spectators, and the Tour of California, attracting this year somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million and that we ought to seek to put together the third piece of the triple crown of professional cycling in North America," Kinder said.

There were plenty of events the department of tourism could have supported, but Kinder said a bicycle race was a natural. He said it provides opportunities that other tourist-friendly events can't offer.

"We're all for music festivals and all that stuff, but you can't move them around, like you can a cycling event," Kinder said. "By its very nature, it holds the potential to bring the state together, to unite the state -- large, urban areas along with small towns that we're rolling through. ... It just seemed like the thing that we should do. I viewed it from the outset, that if we could pull this off, get it on cable TV, which we are, and have live streaming video on our Web site, ... I was convinced that if we could put all this together, we would have the best chance to 'brand' Missouri to the world that we had ever had. This is really a world audience."

The race concludes Sunday in St. Louis, and Kinder hopes it draws thousands of spectators. He said St. Louis will be a great place for sports fans this weekend as the Cardinals, Rams and Blues are all in town. He said the success of the event will be judged by more than the number of spectators who line the streets for the six-day race.

"We want the greatest number of spectators," Kinder said. "We want the greatest economic impact for our hospitality and tourism industry, which is our state's No. 2 industry. We're going to be measuring all that to the greatest extent possible."

In the past, Kinder has said he would like to bring the Tour of Missouri through Cape Girardeau, but he said producing the first Tour is more important than figuring out future routes.

"It is hard to know on the maiden voyage, when a lot of people don't know what kind of animal we're describing," he said. "Once we get one under our belt, we'll know a lot more."

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