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Tour de ’Toona brakes to 1 day

March 29, 2008
By Amanda Clegg,
After 20 years of peddling, the International Tour de ’Toona has decided to pull back its pace this summer.

Race director Larry Bilotto said the tour will go from a seven-day event to a one-day race this year, but the organization plans to hit the pavement full force in 2009.

“I’m just disappointed this year we’re stepping back, but we hope next year to come back even stronger,” Bilotto said.

He said ongoing lawsuits involving a former race director and a racer who was seriously injured in a 2005 accident, steering committee issues, competing event and sponsorship troubles prompted the decision.

After organizing the race for 20 years, Bilotto said steering committee members need a break. Recent deaths also left openings on the committee.

“[We’re] always looking for another group who wants to commit the time and effort,” he said.

Preparing for the event takes the better part of spring and summer.

The Tour de ’Toona also is up against another race held in Chicago. The tour has competed with several races during the years, including ones in New York and Charlotte, N.C.

“We’re just looking to, hopefully, work things out with other competitions,” Bilotto said.

Finally, he said some sponsors cannot fulfill previous obligations but declined further comment.

Bilotto expects participation to decline. He thinks amateur riders will turn out for the one-day race, but the number of professional riders might drop.

The boost to the economy also will drop. Bilotto said a Penn State study estimated the Tour de ’Toona brings in $2.5 million to $4 million. He said the race is one of the bigger draws to the area.

Cheryl Ebersole, executive director of Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau, said determining how much of a hit to the economy depends on many factors.

For example, she said if teams drop out of the race, lodging properties would feel the pinch because sponsored teams can afford to foot local hotel bills.

“The Tour de ’Toona has been a great event for Blair County,” she said. “We have gained a lot of exposure from Tour de ’Toona.”

She hopes the event still is able to draw a crowd.

The Sunday criterium — a 35-lap, one-mile loop around downtown Altoona, emphasizing speed — will remain as the lone race in the traditionally seven-stage event. The race will take place July 27.

Bob and Bev O’Neal have hosted cyclists for the past four years. Bev O’Neal said she is disappointed that the event is going from seven days to one.

“We enjoy watching it and having the bikers in our home,” she said. Seven to eight riders, a mechanic, a manager and at least one masseuse have stayed in the couple’s five-bedroom, 2¢-bath Martinsburg home.

She said they usually start hearing from the cyclists in April, and they come from all over the United States and even England and Canada.

“It’s a pretty big event,” she said.

Cyclist registration is scheduled to open soon.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Clegg is at 949-7030.

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