Tour of Walla Walla bike races canceled
Vicki Hillhouse Mar 28, 2017 Updated 1 hr ago (…)
Organizers of Walla Walla’s annual cycling races are hitting the brakes this year.
Tour of Walla Walla has been cancelled for 2017 as participation in road racing declines across the country, organizers Mike and Kathryn Austin said in a recent email blast to participants.
The three-day, four-stage race that includes a downtown criterium where cyclists buzz through the paved streets as spectators cheer them on through the heart of the city, has been a 20-year tradition and an anchor of spring tourism activities.
But after a roughly $6,500 loss last year amid declining numbers, organizers need to see more participation to move forward again.
At least 300 participants are needed for the event to break even, they said. At one month before the event, just 40 had registered. Riders, they said, are waiting longer and longer to register for the races, making it difficult for promoters to organize. With projected registrations over the next month, organizers don’t think they’d make the target for Walla Walla and ultimately lose money, like they did last year.
“Yes, it was a difficult decision,” Mike Austin said via email this morning. “I feel as if we are letting riders down, but without their support our hands are tied.”
Whether the cancellation will be permanent has not been decided.
“We are brainstorming to come up with ideas to keep Walla Walla on the regional cycling calendar,” Austin said. “The Tour of Walla Walla has a respected history and introduced many cyclists to our wonderful community. We will be watching trends in cycling (competitive and noncompetitive) to help our decision-making.”
Visit Walla Walla Executive Director Ron Williams said the race brings in visitors from across the economic spectrum. Although the competitive cycling throughout the weekend may not give many riders a chance to participate in traditional tourism activities, the event helps fill hotel rooms and brings economic investment throughout the Valley.
Williams said he knows of participants who make efforts to set up special team dinners and events, too.
He said he’ll try to work with organizers to see if there’s a way to bring back the event.
Originally the event was scheduled for April 21-23.
In an open letter to participants and circulated on Facebook, Austin said he believes “the severe winter and lack of spring riding” have played into rough roads for races throughout the Pacific Northwest. But a switch from road racing may be a factor, too, he said.
“There is a downturn in road racing, a national trend that is affecting many races,” Austin said via email.
For registrants who can’t get refunds on their accommodations, the Austins plan to organize rides on the traditional courses during what would have been Tour of Walla Walla weekend. Details are in the works. Other plans include exploration of a gravel ride in the Blues.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.
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