Wednesday, May 8, 2013

MOPRO hits St. Louis streets, albeit on Mother's Day weekend

Missouri native Brad Huff signs an autograph for a fan at the
 long-departed Tour of Missouri in 2009.  He is scheduled to
appear this weekend at MOPRO.
Kathleen Nelson photo.
If we had our druthers, the series of professional cycling races known as MOPRO would hit the streets of St. Louis sometime other than Mother's Day weekend. But, no one asked us.

Say this much: the weather could be ideal for riders and spectators at the three events:
The Midtown Grand Prix on Friday.
The Tour de Grove flagship events on Saturday.
And the smaller Dutchtown Classic on Sunday.

You could stay in your house and wait for the Tour of California on the NBC Sports Network or huddle around the computer to catch the online broadcast of the Giro d'Italia, which features the scintillating commentary of the man Paul Sherwen refers to as The Great Sean Kelly. But for cycling fans here, Saturday's pro races provide the best opportunity to see a slew of the nation's best riders in person. We can lament, wail and moan about the loss of the Tour of Missouri, but it does no good. The week-long race, which brought the best cyclists in the world to our state from 2007 to 2009, is gone, never to return. But, under the guidance of Big Shark's Mike Weiss, MOPRO has enjoyed slow but steady growth and is included on the top national pro circuit for closed courses.

A little history lesson:


The event began as the Tour de Winghaven and was staged in the development in St. Charles County over Father's Day weekend. The economic downturn and miserable weather forced a change, first of venue to The Grove. Weiss has enough gravitas with USA Cycling to convince them to move the date to May, when weather tends to be more favorable. Weiss has garnered enough sponsorship support to expand the original Tour de Grove one-day event to bookend it with two smaller races. The trio, though, gives the pros ample reason to come to St. Louis. In return the area's amateur cyclists get the chance to ride the same courses as the pros and pick up a pointer or two.

Among the riders scheduled to compete:

Jeremy Powers, U.S. Pro Cyclocross national champion
Brad Huff, former U.S. Pro Criterium and track national champion. Huffie hails from Springfield, MO.
Karl Menzies, ranked second in the US PRO ranks.
Hilton Clarke, USPRO Criterium champion.
Laura Van Gilder, one of the top U.S. pro women. Yes, the event offers racing for women as well as men.

The Tour de Grove is a featured stop on the USA Cycling National Criterium Calendar, the top series in this country for cyclists who specialized in "crits," races that include multiple laps on a closed circuit course. Unlike a road race you'd see at the Tour de France or Tour of Missouri, criteriums offer fans the chance to see the race unfold, as the riders pass each point on the course dozens of times.