Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cuba's Dominguez wins first stage of Tour of Missouri

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: September 11, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Missouri: Ivan Dominguez of Cuba broke out of a tight group 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 136.8 (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.

Fans were applauding cycling heavyweights including Alberto 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 going to other teams eager to welcome them.

The race is nearly 965 kilometers (600 miles) in six stages across the state and will end on Sunday in St. Louis.

"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 it's sad to see it go.

"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 Britain, Spain, Germany, Canada and Mexico.

The race will pass through 20 counties and about 50 cities and towns, continuing Wednesday with a leg from Clinton to Springfield. 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.

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