With the official announcement of the host cities for the 2008 Tour de Georgia on Wednesday by event organizers, local suspicions were confirmed - the city of Covington will not be hosting a stage race next year.
The announcement did not come as a surprise to members of the Tour de Georgia exploratory committee. Maurice Carter, chairman of the committee, said he believed that the late change in leadership of the event coupled with the decision to chart a more westerly route through the state this year led to a decision to pass over Covington.
Lt. Governor Casey Cagle's office took over management of the tour at the end of October. His former campaign manager, Elizabeth Dewberry has been named executive director of the cycling event.
"I've talked with her at length. She understands Covington's interest," said Carter of Dewberry. "She and the lieutenant governor have strong ties to the area. She understands and will make sure that we get strong consideration next year."
Meanwhile, Carter, husband of Mayor Elect Kim Carter, said he and his committee will maintain contact and relationships with the Tour managers over the next year and will send a delegation to the Tour in 2008.
"As we did this year, we'll send delegations and continue the discussion so in 2009 we'll get early consideration," Carter said.
In its sixth year, the 660-mile cycling race will span six days from April 21-27 and will make stops in 12 host cities.
Host cities are Tybee Island, Savannah, Statesboro, Augusta, Washington, Gainesville, Braselton, Suwanee, Dahlonega, Blairsville, Brasstown Bald Mountain and Atlanta according to a press release from the Tour.
For five of those communities - Braselton, Statesboro, Suwanee, Tybee Island and Washington - this will be their first year hosting a stage of the race.
"The only one I looked at and thought that could have been us would be Washington," said Carter of the city which has a population of 4,300 according to the 2000 Census.
Carter said he believed tour organizers did not choose Covington because the city is located too far west from the route mapped out for the tour next year.
"They wanted to address areas of the state that hadn't really been addressed," Carter said. "Clearly their intent was to start in the southeast area and go north. "We're probably just a little further west than they wanted to come.
Even though Newton County won't get to see the Tour race through Covington next year, Carter said cycling enthusiasts will still get the opportunity to see a major race pass through the county this summer.
The 2008 Bike Ride Across Georgia will begin in the city of Oxford on Saturday, June 8. BRAG is a recreational bike ride which attracts riders from all walks of life said Carter. In its 29th year the ride is expected to attract 1,500 cyclists who will spend seven days riding across the state.
Carter said he expects many of the riders will arrive the day before on Saturday, June 7, and camp at Oxford College or stay at local hotels. This will be BRAG's fifth visit to Oxford. The last time the race passed through Oxford was in 1998 when it started and ended in the small college town.
Carter said he is working with the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Covington to organize several events for that weekend including a local bike ride on Saturday to promote the Newton County area as well as some type of BRAG event on the Covington Square that evening.
The event is expected to be an economic boost for the county with many cyclists staying at local hotels, dining at local restaurants and shopping in local stores.
"Overall BRAG is a great opportunity to showcase cycling to the citizens of Oxford, Covington, and Newton County and to showcase our area, our hospitality and our great cycling roads to the riders," said Carter in an e-mail. "In the long run, this will also put us in a better position for a successful bid to host the Tour de Georgia in 2009."
For more information on BRAG visit www.brag.org. For more information on the Tour de Georgia visit www.tourdegeorgia.com.