Plug gets pulled on Tour of the North
The 2014 Tour of the North cycle race has been cancelled after the organisers failed to secure the necessary Government funding to run the event.
And the future of the race is now in serious doubt after the second cancellation in as many years, with Race Director Anthony Mitchell also announcing his his decision to step down.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed last Friday that there were serious doubts surrounding the 2014 Tour of the North due to a cut in funding from Stormont.
Instead cash has been ploughed in to bringing the Giro d'Italia – one of the biggest cycling races in the world – to Northern Ireland in May.
That has now had an impact on local cycling's main event with April's race now scrapped.
Even a last-ditch bid to secure the necessary finance from the private sector over the weekend failed to pay, leaving the organisers with not choice but to shelve their 2014 plans.
In a statement Mitchell said: "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 one of our unstinting title sponsors 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.
"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 (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) and we met with their delivery agent Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) who also confirmed there were no funds available.
"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 Monday morning that door too was closed."
The Tour of the North organisers were forced to cancel last year's event – which was to be the 50th running of the race – just days before it was due to take place after unseasonal spring snow left many of the roads that were to be used impassable, therefore denying England's James Moss the chance to defend his title.
That, combined with the Giro coming to Northern Ireland less than a month later, was why there was such a strong appetite to run a successful Tour of the North this year. Now, however, that won't happen.
And with both Mitchell and Commercial Director Andrew Duncan both deciding to leave their posts a huge question mark now hangs over the event.
"It had been my intention to step down as Race Director after delivering the 50th edition; with that being postponed from last year. I can now confirm my departure, albeit not on the terms I would have wished," said Mitchell.