Tour of the North International Cycle Race
Statement: Monday 20th January 2014.
Organisers of Easter's showpiece Cycling event, the 4-day Tour of the North International, have announced the cancellation of the 2014 event due to funding gaps that they have been unable to fill despite their best efforts.
Speaking on behalf of the promoting NICF, Race Director Anthony Mitchell announced the cancellation at the weekend stating, "This is an extremely reluctant decision but we feel we have exhausted all avenues and have no option but to cancel 13 weeks out from the start date. We have been active since the Summer in putting the necessary budget in place, and had secured a substantial amount of private sector sponsorship. We had additional support this year from of our unstinting title sponsor P&O Ferries. We normally require additional funding from the daily host Councils; however there have been delays with applications opening, with some Councils due to announce their 2014 funding in April. This makes hosting an International event in April impossible."
"We even had the issue raised at Stormont, with the DCAL Minister stating that there would be no funding gaps for major sporting events. Unfortunately this does not seem to apply to the Tour of the North on this occasion. The Minister declined our request for a meeting, but we did meet with her representatives"
"We arranged a meeting with the Sports Branch of DCAL before Christmas, where they – along with Sport NI - confirmed there was no funding available. DCAL recommended we go to DETI, and we met with their delivery agent Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) who also confirmed there were no funds available"
"NITB Commented that our event was low on participant numbers, as we are normally restricted to 100 competitors – one of only two events in Northern Ireland granted more than the normal 80 riders. Following months working with PSNI, we were looking forward to announcing that we had secured an increase in participant numbers to 150 this year. This would have allowed more local riders to compete alongside the professionals, as in the past many of our local riders had to be turned away"
"On advice of NITB, our last resort was to approach the organisers of the Tour of Italy and unfortunately, and somewhat understandably, they too have been unable to bridge the funding gap given the 11th hour request"
"We delayed this announcement over the weekend, to give time for yet another 11th hour discussion with a high-profile company, but as of 9am this morning (20th Jan), that door too was closed"
2013 was to have been the 50th edition of the event, but snow forced cancellation just days before the event, and it looks like the Easter classic will not reach its landmark occasion in the foreseeable future.
A disconsolate Mitchell again stressed, "It had been my intention to step down as Race Director after delivering the 50th edition; with that decision being postponed from last year. I have been associated with this event for over 20 years, and each year we've taken steps forward to improve and build the event to make it the best stage race in Northern Ireland. I feel I have helped achieve that despite the endless pressures each year for funding. I can now confirm my departure, albeit not on the terms I would have wished"
Commercial Director Andrew Duncan, an integral part of the small organising team for the last 5 years, had also announced his intention to stand down after this year’s event.
"Anthony and I devote a large chunk of our lives to organising this event to a professional standard. We do it for the love of the sport. We are volunteers and make no profit. We put our family and private lives on hold promoting the event and obviously it is disheartening when we're repeatedly told by government bodies there's no money available, not even a penny"
Mitchell paid tribute to the hard working Committee who deliver the event, and also the loyal sponsors and supporters who have helped over the years. He singled out the PSNI for praise, and the irony that the 2014 Tour of the North was confirmed as a test event for the Tour of Italy, which will come to Northern Ireland three weeks after Easter.
He confirmed that he had expressions of interest from Irish, British, Dutch and French teams representing over 180 riders who he had to give as much notice as possible in order for them to make alternative arrangements for Easter competition.
This now leaves a major gap in the Cycling Calendar, in a year when Cycling continues to grow in status in Northern Ireland, with a local World Champion, former Tour of the North winner Martyn Irvine who is also BBC NI Sports Personality of the year; the Tour of Italy coming to Northern Ireland in May; The Tour de France a short hop across the water in Yorkshire in July, and the prospect of cycling medals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this August.