At stake is one of the most high-profile bicycle races in the U.S. -- on par, in fact, with some of the best in the world. Nearly 120 world-class bicyclists, which may include Lance Armstrong, from 24 countries are expected to come to Missouri, that is, if the competition goes forward. The 500-mile race over five days was to begin August 31, with a start and finish line tentatively slated for St. Louis.
The state Division of Tourism and the ten-member Tourism Commission, which has sponsored the event since its creation in 2007, say the Division of Tourism cannot afford to make the $1 million contribution. Having seen next year's budget slashed from nearly $20 million to $13.5 million, tourism officials say, the agency had no choice but to sever its financial commitment.
"We love the event. It's colorful, fun, and it brings a lot of people to Missouri, but we can't afford it this year. We had to make a hard decision," says Tourism Commission chair Marci Bennett.
Mike Weiss, owner of Big Shark Bicycle Co., who chairs the Tour of Missouri, isn't buying the budget shortfall rationale.This has never been about the money. Nixon took a position against the race because of his animosity for Peter Kinder," says Weiss. "It's nothing but a grudge match.
"And if this race is canned, it will, I think, take a toll on his image. It will show his inflexibility -- and irritability."
Kinder, a Republican, is thought to be Nixon's most serious rival if the governor, a Democrat, runs for re-election in 2012, which he's fully expected to do.
Nixon's deputy press secretary, Sam Murphey, denies that any bad blood between the governor and Kinder factored in Nixon's decision not to impose his will on the tourism agency to free up the $1 million appropriation for the Tour of Missouri.
"The discretion on how to spend the state tourism budget was made by the Tourism Commission, and the governor supports that decision," Murphey says.
Nixon last year temporarily withheld funding but reinstated the earmarked $1.5 million two weeks later, and the race went on as planned.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.