When I say "major Tour organizer", what image do those three words conjure up?
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Male, European, middle-aged, a bit of a paunch, smart grey suit, confident talker, etc., etc., etc.? Or is your mental picture of a bloke in light blue jeans, a peaked cap and shiny red baseball jacket who looks as though his most pressing concern is locating the nearest popcorn seller?
You can't miss Frank Arokiasamy. He's looks exactly like a bloke in light blue jeans, a peaked cap and shiny red baseball jacket whose most pressing concern is locating the nearest popcorn seller. He also happens to be the brains behind the most ambitious race plan in the cycling world - the Tour of America.
I saw Frank coming before stage 4 of the Tour of California this morning and whipped out my tape recorder. The last we heard was that, having almost been laughed out of the room at the Interbike trade show when he first unveiled his 4,500-mile, 27-stage blueprint, Frank had gone back to the drawing board and returned with a much more reasonable three-week proposal. He admitted to Procycling editor Pete Cossins a few weeks back that a 2009 inauguration looked most likely, but said that he would wait until March 31st before ruling out a 2008 kick off.
Frank said this morning that the plan remained unchanged, i.e. see what materializes between now and March 31st, then decide whether or not to wait another year. I asked if he'd had any joy raising the $30 million dollars of sponsorship which was his target, and if so how much.
"We're not mentioning figures, but there's a solid commitment from five or six companies," he replied. Those "five or six" apparently include a national brewery, a pharmaceutical company and a housing company.
"For the companies and their budgets, a 2009 start might actually be better," he added.
Much as I'd like to believe that he can pull this off, it still sounds pretty slapdash. Our conversation this morning was interrupted when Frank introduced himself to Rabobank directeur sportif Erik Breukink, who happened to be standing close by. The very brief exchange went more or less like this:
"Hi, I'm Frank. I'm doing the Tour of America..."
"Ah, ja, I think you sent us an e-mail. What's the date again.....?"
Alas, the date is just one of those many tiny winsy details that Arokiasamy and his five full-time co-workers and 20 part-timers have yet to nail down. More encouragingly, they at least say that they've started talking to prospective host town councils, highway authorities and even tourist boards.
"A couple of weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas making a presentation to 15 or 20 local officials. They we're really excited and just asked me what they had to do. We haven't met anyone so far who hasn't been interested..." Frank told me this morning.
We'll put our skepticism to one side for a moment and just imagine what could be if Frank does realize his impossible dream. We and he only have to look around here at the Tour of California: great crowds, wonderful enthusiasm and marketing opportunities aplenty.
Oh, and by the way, Frank, I don't care what's in Christian Prudhomme, Angelo Zomegnan or Victor Cordero's wardrobe; I dig that baseball jacket.