The Tour de Georgia has been called off for 2009, with organisers citing 'tough' economic times as the reason.
The race's future had been in doubt, but Georgia is not ready to give up on the Tour. The state's Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle said that they will use next year to focus on getting the race back on the road for 2010. Cagle, who serves as chairman of the race's board of directors, said this decision will strengthen the race in for future.
Race organisers confirmed the decision with a statement on Friday, which emphasized the event's importance to the state and its intention to return. "Over the course of six years, the Tour de Georgia has attracted 3.2 million spectators, many of whom traveled to Georgia from out of state, and generated a direct economic impact totaling over US$186 million. The 2008 Tour de Georgia, our most successful Tour yet, yielded over US$38.6 million in direct economic impact for the State," the statement read.
USA Cycling's CEO Steve Johnson expressed his disappointment that the race would be cancelled for next year, and underlined the importance it had for the sport. "Since its inception in 2003, the Tour de Georgia has been an important international stage race featuring some of the top riders in the world. Equally important, it provided the impetus for major stage races in California and Missouri," he stated.
The Tour de Georgia, which began in 2003, has had difficulty with its finances despite providing a strong positive economic impact on the state. It struggled to make ends meet in 2007, and was only held after the the state of Georgia stepped in with financing.
In 2008, AT&T came in as a sponsor in January, but according to the Savannah Morning News, the organisers still failed to pay all the bills, quoting one hotel owner on Tybee Island, the site of the 2008 Tour de Georgia's opening stage, who had been stiffed for all but $8,000 of a $30,246 bill ran up by the race.
Financing aside, the biggest blow to the race may have been the failure of Lance Armstrong to include the race as part of his 2009 comeback. Armstrong's attendance in 2004, the year he won the race, helped grow the event into a premiere race which attracted several ProTour teams and drew thousands of fans. When Armstrong revealed his early 2009 season plans, he included the Tour of California, but opted to head to Europe in April for the Spring Classics.
On a positive note, Dieter Drake, the Anthem Sports CEO, informed Cyclingnews that the increasingly popular Tour of the Battenkill may fill the Tour de Georgia's spot on the UCI calendar. The Classics-style race with dirt roads and numerous climbs in Cambridge, New York, has been given permission to apply for a late addition to the UCI calendar for an April 18-19, 2009 slot.