Cycling: Tour of Britain under threat: Sponsor required by January or premier domestic event will end

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The Independent Online
TIME is running out for the Tour of Britain - better known as the Milk Race - after the end of the longest-running sponsorship in sport. If a new sponsor cannot be found by the end of January, Britain's premier cycling event will be history.

The Milk Marketing Board, who sponsored the race since 1958, is to be abolished on 1 April, and its successor, Milk Marque, will not have responsibility or a budget for milk marketing. An added problem in the search for sponsors has been the arrival of the Tour de France in southern England this summer and the success of the Kellogg's professional tour, which have led to a saturation of cycling interest.

Only cigarette manufacturers and producers of alcoholic spirts were eliminated from the British Cycling Federation's search for sponsors for the 14-day event. Numerous companies are willing to support parts of the race, such as the 'king of the mountains' competition, but the BCF has not been able to find a lead name willing to invest around pounds 750,000.

Television coverage is almost guaranteed for the tour, and more than 30 hours of the last year's event were seen on Sky Sports.

Jim Hendry, the chief executive of the BCA, said yesterday that there was only a 10 per cent chance of saving the race, which is due to begin at the end of May.

'We are still talking to three or four people but a miracle needs to happen,' he said. 'If something is not done before the end of January we shall have be forced to pull the plug.

'We have a route but already have had to postpone meetings with local authorities. It looks as if they will have to be put off again,' he said.

The Milk Marketing Board were not the event's first sponsors. The Daily Express stepped in as long ago as 1951.

Last year more than 100 riders from 13 countries took part in the 1,150 mile race. While dominated by amateur teams, a small number of professionals are also eligible to take part.