By John Bassetti
The best event that won’t be held this weekend is the Tour of the Valley.
With its major sponsorship yanked, the area’s annual bicycle stage race has ended its run of consecutive summers at five.
The event was originally set to take place today through Sunday.
“We were extremely disappointed to hear that it had been canceled,” said Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
“We were in contact with the promoter, J.R. Petsko, since last fall. He let us know that [Youngstown State] was not going to be a major sponsor, but he didn’t think there would be a problem. Plus, the CVB board had committed to offering some sponsorship dollars.”
Macala said that her department, which is under the umbrella of the Commissioners’ office, had been, since its inception, a race contributor and supporter, in some form, such as minor funding and in promotions.
Macala said she stayed in touch with Petsko and continued to offer contact information and suggestions for potential sources of alternate sponsorship.
“In the spring,” Macala said, “he still seemed confident that he could secure the necessary sponsorship.”
As late as May, she said, an email came, indicating that Petsko was unsuccessful in securing adequate support.
“I was very disappointed when he sent an email,” she said. “I didn’t know how much effort he was putting into finding a replacement [title] sponsor.”
Since the 2013 Tour of the Valley, Macala said that the MCCVB was on board with helping put the pieces in place for 2014.
Part of Macala’s disappointment stems from her belief that the TOTV was building momentum and positive community involvement.
“It’s too bad it fell apart, especially late in the game. It’s a pretty specialized event, so it takes someone who does this on a regular basis. We’ll still try to find someone who can bring it back in 2015.”
The TOTV was the brainchild of Greenford’s Dan and Erin Quinlan and their Carbon Racing foundation. The inaugural event was 2009. They were in control until handing it off to Petsko and his Appalachian Bicycle Racing Association a few years ago.
The Quinlans didn’t return phone messages for comment on the TOTV’s demise.
In an email, Petsko gave his reason for the non-event: “We were unable to secure a new title sponsor for 2014, after YSU withdrew, due to budget cutbacks in the marketing department.”
The amount of support received from YSU isn’t known, although the degree to which it helped, otherwise, came in various forms.
In the last few years, the Williamson Business School building and surrounding campus, for example, was a staging area for the three-part race’s Sunday competition.
YSU’s communications department, however, acknowledged that budget cutbacks would have been a likely reason for dropping the dollars for the race.
Mastropietro Winery in Ellsworth was — and would have been — the traditional Friday site of the race’s opening event, the time trial.
Marianne Mastropietro, a tri-owner, said she was very disappointed in the cancellation, especially because of the method of notification — or lack of it.
“Unfortunately, I heard from the morning news,” she said of the initial shock over a month ago. “That was kind of bad.”
Mastropietro sent e-mails to Petsko, wondering why. She also emailed the Quinlans, to make sure they were informed.
“I was very disappointed for all of us, but especially for Dan and Erin, because they did so much to get it going, before re-committing to another area,” Mastropietro said of the Quinlans’ desire to spend more time with their growing family.
“They brought in someone [J.R.], who did a fine job the first couple years, then cancelled this year.”
Marianne said that the time trials translated into extra business at the winery, but the overall race was part of a bigger picture.
“I don’t care about our venue, but it was something for the Mahoning Valley,” she said. “It was a well-established weekend, then, all of a sudden, it’s gone. Every year it grew. We even changed our menu to more carbohydrates [to satisfy cyclists’ nutritional needs].”
She said that the winery was set to be a sponsor this year.
“Had they [promoter(s)] given everybody a head’s-up, maybe we could have done something [to save the event]. They didn’t even ask us to reconsider,” Mastropietro said.
Alan Wenger was a longtime TOTV volunteer.
“It was my privilege to play a small part as a low-level participant and my law firm, Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell as a sponsor through those years,” the attorney said.
“It is sad to see the TOTV cancelled, particularly after all the hard work to get it going. A sanctioned professional and top-level amateur bike race — and particularly a multi-stage and multi-day event — takes an incredible amount of planning, work and money and many volunteers. I saw it take over much of the year’s energy and attention for the Quinlans. It became impossible for them to continue the level of commitment needed.
“Competitive road cycling is simply not as popular in northeastern Ohio as it is in some parts of the country, so it is difficult for any promoter to attract sufficient-size fields to make a race sustainable, though I saw local communities, including police and city administrators, to be most encouraging and cooperative with promoters. The Mahoning Valley offers race courses and venues as attractive and challenging as anywhere. Maybe bike racing will be back — we can at least hope.”