Cuba's Dominguez wins first stage of Tour of Missouri

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Ivan Dominguez of Cuba broke out of a tight clump of riders and won the first stage of the inaugural Tour of Missouri on Tuesday.

In near-perfect weather conditions, the cast of international riders made the 85-mile circuit beginning and ending in Kansas City's Country Club Plaza district without incident.

Thousands of spectators lined the highways and streets as the riders made their way through the loop.

The six-day, 600-mile race started on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, where fans applauded cycling heavyweights including Contador and American champion Levi Leipheimer. For their Discovery Channel team that has dominated international cycling for almost a decade, it will be the last race on American soil.

Discovery will soon disband, its riders got to other teams eager to welcome them.

The race, nearly 600 miles in six stages across the state and ending on Sunday in St. Louis, began with an 85-mile circle around Kansas City on Tuesday.

"We believe it will be the largest sporting event in the history of Missouri," Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said. "We hope to bring millions of dollars to our state's economy and myriad economic benefits to Missouri."

The Discovery team won eight of nine Tour de France titles, and for director Johan Bruyneel to let it melt away has been likened by cycling enthusiasts to George Steinbrenner's disbanding the Yankees.

"It's a big decision, an important decision, for myself, for the people on the team," Bruyneel said. "We've been like a family; we spend so much time together. We had a lot of success. We had a lot of problems together. When it comes to an end, it's difficult. But I prefer to look at it as something that has nothing but good memories."

Some cycling fans expressed surprise that Discovery would bring so many outstanding riders to Missouri, especially Contador, a Spaniard known for his skill in mountain terrain who may not thrive on the relatively flat -- but in places hilly -- plains of Missouri.

"We felt it's our obligation for American cycling to bring the strongest possible team ... to race on American ground," Bruyneel said. "It"s a little bit of a farewell week, so we are super-motivated."

Altogether, there will be 15 cycling teams of eight riders each, a true international event with teams from Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Canada and Mexico.

Tuesday's first leg, a loop around the Kansas City area, started on the Plaza and was to end there several hours later.

The race will pass through 20 counties and about 50 cities and towns, continuing Wednesday with a leg from Clinton to Springfield. After a time trial in Branson on Thursday, the cyclists will race from Lebanon to Columbia on Friday and from Jefferson City to St. Louis on Saturday. On Sunday, the race will conclude with a circuit race in St. Louis in what will be one of the city's most crowded sports days ever.

Also Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals are hosting the rival Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Rams are facing the San Francisco 49ers. That night, the NHL's St. Louis Blues will be playing their first home exhibition game.

"It's going to be an unbelievable festival weekend in the great city of St. Louis. There is a sufficiently large fan base to go around for all teams," Kinder said.

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