This weekend was the 51st edition of the Tour of Kansas City. Over the past 50 editions of the Tour of Kansas City there have been several versions of the event. With course changes, sponsors changes, and years were it looked like the Tour of Kansas City might be over for good, this year’s edition was packed full of cycling goodness for recreational and competitive riders.
Organizers packed in three race venues, a Gran Fondo, Fun Ride, and a Cask Ale Fest over the course of the three day event.
New Longview Street Sprints
The weekend’s festivities began in Lee’s Summit with the New Longview Street Sprints. This is the first year the Tour of Kansas City has included street sprints as part of the race events. Riders lined up Friday night for head-to-head sprints. The action was fast with riders showing their sprinting prowess. Street sprints are a tough event. Gear choice is everything; start off in too small a gear and you will spin out early, if your gear choice is too large you will stall before you even get started and you race is over as soon as it begins.
The first Tour of Kansas City Gran Fondo was also the first Gran Fondo held in the Midwest region. Gran Fondos are similar to mass start events most people are familiar with, however Gran Fondos are timed events. They are not technically, but sort of are, races.
According to organizers, 600 people were pre-registered for the Gran Fondo. Much like running events, riders organized themselves in the start area based on the average speed they planned on riding during the event. The start area was packed with riders eagerly anticipating the miles that were ahead of them.
Once the signal was given, the riders made their way through the start line and around the New Longview development. There was a several mile loop around the immediate area that brought riders back through the start/finish line before they headed off on course. While some say that this was a planned loop, our sources tell us that it was the result of some overly eager route marking that was supposed to take place after the riders left the area which caused the group to double back. Either way, it was a bit of an unnecessary loop that caused a bunch of confusion and could probably be left out in future editions of the ride if it was indeed an intended addition to the route.
Riders had several route choices; they could choose ride lengths of 20 miles on up to the full 104 mile route (which ended up being closer to 108 miles).
The riders participating in the shorter rides rode with the long-route participants for awhile before turning off onto their respective roads. The long route took riders through a bucolic landscape south and east of the Kansas City metro area. The roads throughout the first two-thirds of the ride were mostly well paved with very little climbing thrown in. Riders made great time all morning and spent much time conversing with each other as they made their way through the Missouri countryside. The early morning weather was very nice with clouds keeping the heat down. SAG stops seemed to be well placed and there were plenty for riders to choose from. Some riders chose to skip some of the SAGs while others took advantage of all of them.
There were timed time trial sections and climbs on the route and many riders chose to try to vie for the fastest time through these sections. The pace picked up at the first TT section and riders hammered to try and pull out the fastest time of the day.
The most difficult part of the full length route came in the last third of the ride. The smooth flat roads of the first part of the ride gave way to long stretches of chip seal and all the climbing that was missing from earlier in the ride. The clouds that had kept the heat down for the first two hours of the ride cleared out and oppressive heat and humidity set in for the rest of the day. The ride volunteers were great and much appreciated especially as the miles clicked away and exhaustion started to hit riders, plenty of food and water were available at each of the SAG stops with live music even provided at the final SAG along the route.
The finish area was set up with a food tent, vendors, music, and team tents. Riders who had already finished the ride could stick around and cheer on other riders as they made their way to the finish line.
Overall, the Gran Fondo was a great success. With a few improvements it will become an even better event. The timing was an issue for a few riders. Sufficient data was not collected from the riders so there was no breakdown into M/F riders or between course lengths; everyone was placed together as far as results go, meaning that those who finished the short courses were placed in front of riders who road the longer courses. This really took away the significance of including timing in the event. This is a problem that is easily remedied though and we are sure future events will take steps to make sure timing is improved.
The final SAG was also off route which caused some confusion on the road and added extra miles for riders who needed the SAG but, at that point, probably could have gone with out the extra mileage. It was a great SAG but as one rider stated it was, “…silly when they had the Casey’s store right at that intersection [as well as] several options on that stretch they could have set a sag at without taking us 1 mile off route.”
Real Ale Fest
Situated between the Gran Fondo start/finish and the New Longview Criterium course was the Tour of Kansas City Real Ale Fest. With 84 beers on tap for sampling, live music, and food it was a great place to kick back and watch the afternoon’s racing action. The Ale Fest was a popular event and many riders, racers, and the community took part.
New Longview Criterium
As riders were finishing up their Gran Fondo Ride, a block away the New Longview Criterium was in full swing. Criterium racing is always a sufferfest but as the heat built throughout the day, the suffering grew exponentially. By the afternoon heat indices were near 100 with humidity values hitting almost 90%. The heat surely had much to do with the DNF of nearly 1/3 of the riders in some categories. Area race officials have also done a better job of pulling lapped riders after lapped riders caused some big issues in last year’s early season races.
The New Longview Criterium has been a part of the Tour of Kansas City for several years now. The 7-corner course has become divisive among local racers with many riders feeling very strongly that the course is a bit too dangerous while others love it. With this year’s course changes, the New Longview course was kept while the very popular Downtown Lee’s Summit Criterium was dropped.
Despite the heat, almost 250 riders entered the racing action on Saturday. Midwest Cycling Community’s Leah Kleager out of Omaha, Nebraska took the win against a strong P/1/2 women’s field. An unexpected victory came from Alberto Covarrubia from Springdale, Arkansas. Alberto surprised the field, taking the win away from several strong riders who are previous winners of Tour of KC races.
A packed Saturday was followed up with an equally busy cycling schedule on Sunday. A non-competitive fun ride took place Sunday morning, this time out of the northeast side of Kansas City. Riders looking for a short recovery ride took a 10 mile guided tour of the historic Cliff Drive neighborhoods.
There were also 17 and 35 mile options which took riders to many of Kansas City’s most historic and culturally important landmarks including: Crown Center, the Sprint Center, The Power and Light District, the Art Deco-style City Hall built during KC’s notorious Pendergast-era, Kansas City’s historic Jazz District, Westport, the Plaza, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, and Loose Park. If any part of the weekend’s event were truly a “Tour of Kansas City”, this was it.
Riders also had the option to extend Saturday’s suffering with the “Hell Loop” which consisted of 48 or 65 total miles of riding,
“Not for the faint of heart or the weak of leg, the Hell Loop will test the best and strongest riders. It includes that “Haas Hop” which tops out at more than 12.5% grade and ends with the infamous “14th Street Wall,” with sections above 15%.”
Cliff Drive Circuit Race
Historically, the Cliff Drive Circuit Race is what the Tour of Kansas City is all about. Everything leads up to this 3 mile loop along the very scenic Cliff Drive through Kansas City’s historic Northeast neighborhoods. The past few editions of the Tour of Kansas have not included this course due to various reasons, including the installation of speed bumps on the course a couple years ago. However, Tour of Kansas City Event Director Mark Hines highlighted the city’s interest in bringing this race back, “The real story is how much the Cliff Drive Corridor Association campaigned to get this back, they wanted the Tour to come back home. Cliff Drive worked hard to get us back and KCMO stepped up in a big way.”
Gooseneck Hill, this is where this race is won and lost. It doesn’t matter if you are on the front of the race or trailing behind, this is where everyone suffers. This is the place to watch the riders race spectacularly and fail incredibly.
The climb comes just a few hundred meters before the finish. At the start of the climb, riders are immediately met with a 10% grade which quickly reaches 13% as they approach a switchback about 1/3 of the way up the climb. From there, the road continues to rise all the way through the corner at the top of the climb that takes riders to a round about and through the finish line.
This tree-lined climb provides climbers and spectators with what is probably the most “European” feel in the area. It is one of the best spectating spots in the region. Tents, chairs, blankets, and crowds all lined the climb. The crowd converged on the riders each time the riders made their way up the climb. They yelled, cheered, dumped water on the riders to cool them down, and even offered a few beer hand-ups. Riders who were off the back suffering their way up the climb received a quick push from spectators who would run alongside them, encouraging them not to give up. Spectators talked, joked, danced, and partied on the hill while the dj played music from the top of the climb.
The heat built early on Sunday and even the morning races were subject to hot and humid conditions. After having already competed in a 5K run, Team Prologue’s own Caleb Teague dominated the category 5 race taking the lead on all climbs, shredding the field and creating a selection that included just two other riders. Caleb was pipped at the line taking a well earned 2nd place on the day. The category 4 race had over 40 race entrants. The field split early into two main groups of about 15 riders each. The second group chased hard but couldn’t bring back the first group and Jesse Maggard of Walt’s Bike Shop took the win.
The men’s 3 field also had a decent turnout with just under 40 riders. Mark Griesse of Three Happy Cows Cycling took a commanding win, finishing almost 27 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack holding on to a lead that had stretched to nearly a minute at several points during the race. Mark went off the front of the group early and despite their best efforts, the rest of the field was unable to pull Mark back before the finish.
The women’s pro/1/2 field was a bit smaller, highlighting the need for more women’s development in the region, but it was a strong field of riders from around the region. Leah Kleager managed to pull off her second win of the weekend, beating her Midwest Cycling Community teammate by just under 3 seconds.
The final race of the day, the men’s Pro/1/2, was the longest and hottest of the day. The riders had to complete 12 circuits of the course under the searing June sun. As is so often the case in the elite field, riders attacked from the gun, speeds were high on the first lap and the peleton flew up Gooseneck Hill with Andrew Lyles of Cycle City Race leading the group, going all-in on the first climb of the day.
Speeds slowed down a bit on subsequent climbs, but not much. A handful of riders made an early break but they were brought back by the group with Justin Leopold of Cycle City Racing doing much of the work to close the gap. Not too long after the break was caught, a second group started to pull away from the pack. The group consisted of Justin Leopold (Cycle City), Lucas Marshall (Midwest Cycling Community), and Jordan Ross (Team Kaos).
Riders were being shelled off the back from lap one but nobody, not even the top riders in the group looked like they felt good during any part of the race. As the 3-man break established a lead, several riders tried to either bridge the gap or work to close it down; Shadd Smith, Lee Bumgarner, Brian Jenson and several others tried their hand at bringing the group back but nobody had the legs, or maybe the will, to accomplish the task. The heat and pace of the race were taking their toll on everyone.
On the final lap, Jordan Ross attacked the lead group, holding on to a small lead over the other two riders Jordan took the win just ahead of Lucas and Justin who place 2nd and 3rd respectively.
A four rider group sprinted for 4th place with 4 more riders sprinting for the final spots in the top-10.
Cliff Drive is a great venue for a race, it is good to see this historic course back in action. If the Tour of KC can keep this course as part of the event, secure long-term sponsorship, and market the race locally, regionally, and nationally, the event will return to it’s former glory and could easily become a top event in the region. Dare we hope for future NRC inclusion? Only time will tell.
The Tour of Kansas City also serves as a fundraiser for the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation. Brent Hugh, Executive Director of MOBikeFed was very pleased with this year’s event:
“We really appreciate the cycling community’s support of the Tour of Kansas City this year. It has become our Foundation’s largest annual fundraiser. The Tour had over 1500 participants in the TKC rides, races, and other events and over 200 volunteers who helped make it all possible. We really appreciate the support of all the sponsors, supporters, organizations, clubs, teams, businesses, and individuals who pitched in to help make the 51st annual Tour of KC a big success this year.”
This year’s Tour of KC was one of the most successful in several years. With participation from competitive and non-competitive riders and plenty of room to grow, this could become a major regional attraction. Mark Hines was happy with how the event went and plans on improving on this year’s event in the future, “The Tour made some nice improvements, returning to cliff drive and adding the area’s first fondo. That said, I’d give us four stars out of five with hundreds of things we will do better next year.”
So what can we expect for next year’s event? “Expect to return to Cliff Drive, better and more integrated venue areas, a bigger party on Gooseneck Hill and at the Fondo finish, and more timed segments at the Gran Fondo.”
As with any event, there is room for improvement but the organizers are on the right track and we look forward to seeing how this event progresses in the future. We are confident, as Mark tells us, “The best is yet to come.”
Featured Photo: David Tsai