Within the next five days, when hundreds of the nation’s top cyclists converge in the Capital City, vying for a trip to the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, around $2 million will be poured into the tri-county area, thanks to the efforts of two men who toiled to bring the international event to Mississippi.
Seven years ago, Bo Bourne, then a Trustmark employee, now city executive for SouthTrust Bank, decided to follow the Olympic trials process and see if Jackson might have a chance of positioning itself as the site for the 2000 trials. Soon after, Bourne and his pal, John Noblin, national marketing manager for SkyTel, both avid cyclists, became event organizers and began the lengthy process of earning the site bid. Last September, Jackson was selected to host the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Cycling over San Diego, Calif., Richmond, Va., and Fort Smith, Ark.
“The selection committee was impressed by the success of Jackson’s existing event, the Tour LeFleur, the superior support structures — hotels, dining, air travel access — and the support of all necessary entities, including the local and state government, the local planning committee and the corporate sponsors,” said Bourne.
The Tour LeFleur will be held Thursday, May 18, on the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Olympic Cycling Trials for men and women will be held Saturday, May 20, in Jackson. In 1999, the Tour LeFleur weekend attracted 800 participants from 34 states and 11 countries for events that included the criterium, the road race, a century ride, a 5K run, a kid’s fun ride. This year, the agenda will include a vendor’s expo.
The economic impact for the 2000 Tour LeFleur/U.S. Olympic Cycling Trials, based on 20,000 to 30,000 spectators, is estimated between $1.6 and $2.5 million, according to Olympic Committee projections. Even conservative estimates place the event’s economic impact at $1.8 million, said Wanda C. Wilson, executive director of the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“To have an event such as this in Jackson is incredible,” said Wilson.
The race is one of the top three of over 2,000 U.S. Cycling Federation–sanctioned cycling events in the country, Noblin said.
“Out of the 2,000 or so cycling events, we’re considered third. It is a huge deal to the cycling community. We want it to be a big community event around here,” he said.
According to U.S.A. Cycling standings, the top 200 men and 100 women cyclists will participate in the invitation-only event.
“It’s unheard of for a market our size to get a race like this,” said Bryan McDonald of Jackson. “Even people in the biking or athletic community are not tuned into the importance of this race. This is the real deal. The winners are Olympic-bound, a major accomplishment for a city our size.”
Bourne and Noblin said there were several reasons Jackson had a successful Olympic Trials bid.
“To be in the running, we had to have a high profile course,” Noblin said. “That’s why we relocated the eight-mile circuit course to the Fondren, Belhaven and Woodland Hills neighborhood last year.”
Last year, they upped their chances when they joined Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the worldwide sanctioning body for international cycling and a division of the International Olympic Committee. As a result, Jackson became the site of one of only five North American races on the UCI calendar, Bourne said.
Corporate sponsors have been equally impressed with the event set-up. Three major corporate sponsors include Trustmark National Bank, Saturn and newcomer Cellular South. Herrin-Gear Autoplex is the local representative of Saturn, a national sponsor for almost a decade through General Motors. Anheuser-Busch, makers of Bud Light, represented locally by Southern Beverage Co., and the U.S. Postal Service are secondary sponsors.
“From day one, we’ve balanced Tour LeFleur, a world-class cycling competition, with a popular beneficiary, the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children,” Bourne said. “The event has raised over $130,000 in the last six years. We know corporate sponsors look at events in several different ways: marketing dollars, how much their logo is viewed, the corporate image they’re gaining by being associated with a sport, charitable contribution/tax deduction, and an event that is community supported. The Tour LeFleur offers sponsors high visibility in both the local consumer market and the national and international cycling markets.”
Since February, more than 16,000 user sessions from over 22 countries have accounted for more than half a million hits at www.tourlefleur.org, with links to sponsors that gain worldwide exposure, Bourne said.
“Cellular South is experiencing tremendous growth,” said president Hu Meena. “We recently announced a $30 million major network expansion that will increase our company’s total number of towers in Mississippi by approximately 65%, plus we will be expanding outside of the state through an acquisition of wireless assets from ALLTEL, including PCS licenses in south Alabama and the Florida panhandle. It’s growth like this that allows Cellular South to be part of such inspiring athletic events like the Tour LeFleur and 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for road cycling — right here in our hometown. We’re not only pleased to be lending our financial support, but we are also excited about providing the exclusive wireless service for the event. We are very happy to be part of such an exciting and worthwhile event.”
For the past seven years, Trustmark has been the title sponsor of the Tour LeFleur, said Gray Wiggers, senior vice president and marketing director of Trustmark.
“We are especially proud to assist this year in bringing the Olympic Trials to Mississippi along with the other sponsors,” Wiggers said. “In assisting to underwrite this premier competition, the Olympic Trials will afford the community the opportunity to observe a world class event. Other benefits to sponsorship are economic development of the community and financial benefits to the children’s hospital.”
Edwin Vickery, general manager of Herrin-Gear Autoplex in Jackson, said Saturn has been a long-time sponsor of the event.
“We’re glad to not only participate in a world-class event, but to see it come to Jackson,” said Vickery.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or (601) 364-1018.