The Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove, the Chicago region's most prominent cycling event, will cease operations because of a scheduling conflict with USA Cycling and the International Cycling Union, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson announced Sunday.
In an open letter published in Sunday's Daily Herald, Johnson writes that a decision by cycling's governing bodies to extend the Tour of Utah's dates will put it in conflict with the The Tour of Elk Grove, depriving the suburban event of the opportunity to attract top riders as it has during its 8-year run.
"Therefore, after much thought and with a heavy heart, we are left no alternative but to cease the Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove," Johnson writes in a letter also signed by Elk Grove Village trustees. "We have always promised that we will only run our cycling event at the highest level and we are greatly disappointed in having to make this decision to end the race."
The Elk Grove event drew dozens of top cyclists from across the world, and hundreds of spectators, to the village each year. Besides presenting elite-level cycling, the event served as a fundraiser for groups such as the Heart of a Marine Foundation, Elk Grove Rotary, and Fallen Soldier Memorial Scholarships.
"Alexian Brothers Health System was the title sponsor of the Tour of Elk Grove for the past 8 years. We were dismayed to learn of the cancellation of the event due to scheduling conflicts," said Alexian Brothers Spokesman Matt Wakely. "The annual cycling tour provided a great opportunity for the community, our Health System and area residents to participate in a world class event."
The Tour of Utah this year was held beginning Tuesday, Aug. 6, two days after the Tour of Elk Grove ended. The setup, Johnson said, allowed top racers to compete in both events.
"Teams could come and race our race, leave Sunday night, fly out to Utah, have that Monday to set up and train a little bit, and then race on Tuesday," he said Sunday.
Elk Grove has tried to partner with the Utah event's organizers to share costs, but their offers have been rebuffed, he added.
In his open letter, Johnson writes that Tour of Utah organizers have been pressing for years to change the Tour of Elk Grove's dates to allow them to hold a road stage to compliment its mountain stages. In order to do so, USA Cycling and the ICU have agreed to allow the Tour of Utah to begin next year on a Monday instead of a Tuesday.
"We know if they start Monday, it's impossible for teams to go from Elk Grove straight to Utah to race (the next day)," Johnson said.
UCI officials and Tour of Utah officials have encouraged Tour of Elk Grove organizers to find a new date, but that's something Johnson said they're unwilling to do.
"We have been the first weekend of August all the time, in our eight years of running the race," he said, adding that the dates were selected to avoid conflicts with the start of the school year and other major suburban events like the Arlington Million.
"It always worked ideally for us to have it there (at that time)," he said. "One, it works in the community, two, it works regionally and, three, we were able to attract the best riders we could."
David Simmons, president of Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove, said he was disappointed in the cancellation because of what the race brought to the village.
"I loved the race. It raised the attention that was paid to cycling in the area and that was great," Simmons said. "You could see guys who raced in the Tour de France racing down Elk Grove Boulevard."
Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove promoted the event and gave away bikes and accessories at the sponsor expo, but wasn't involved with planning the race.
"It's not going to deter what we want to do," Simmons said. "As much as we enjoyed the weekend and the way it helped us raise the knowledge of cycling and advocacy, we're not going to stop working toward our goal, which is to get people out riding their bikes."
A representative of USA Cycling could not me reached for comment Sunday. In a letter dated July 29 but emailed two weeks later, Pat McQuaid, president of the Switzerland-based International Cycling Union, and Christophe Hubschmid, its general director, notified Tour of Elk Grove organizers of the scheduling change.
"We encourage you to work closely with (USA Cycling) to either remain with your August date or to investigate other possibilities, such as moving the event to a date closer to the Philadelphia Cycling Classic (held in early June)."
Johnson said calling off the race was a difficult decision because of the negative consequences it will have not just locally, but on the sport of cycling in the United States.
"We are, outside the Tour of California, in the largest television market that any professional race is covered," he said. "It's a shame because I think it's going to hurt cycling here in America as we try and work hard to build it up."
Marco Colbert, a Lincolnshire resident and USA Cycling race director, said the Tour of Elk Grove is one of the major events on the calendar for area riders.
"That would be quite a loss," Colbert said. "The Tour of Elk Grove has become a fixture in the Chicago area in the first week of August. It has had some big names in pro cycling. It would be quite a shame."
Colbert said he could see where Elk Grove does not necessarily have the flexibility to move the date.
"The calendar is so filled up with events that it's very difficult to move around on the calendar," he said. "Once you get a spot that's working for you, you tend to want to stay there. It's like dominoes. When you change one event, it impacts other events."
Simmons agreed and said that while it would be possible to hold a Tour of Elk Grove for amateur cyclists only, it would be hard to reschedule for the professionals.
"I got the sense that planning was going to be difficult this year because of the conflict. I never thought it was going to be canceled, but then again I wasn't completely surprised," Simmons said. "It's be great if some kind of compromise could be made, but right now it seems final unfortunately."
In his open letter, Johnson places blame for the event's cancellation squarely on the sport's governing bodies.
"In closing, the Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove had a great 8-year run," he writes. "Both Elk Grove and the entire Chicago region were prominently showcased throughout the world. We encourage everyone to continue to support cycling at all levels. Finally, we express our great disappointment that National and International accommodations could not have been made to carry our race date forward."
Staff writer Melissa Silverberg contributed to this report.