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The tour of america may be one of the most prestigious bicycle race tours in the U.S., but its No. 1 event is also becoming famous for its sardines.

At the CoreStates U.S. Pro Championship in Philadelphia, the tour's largest and oldest race, spectators come from miles around to sample gourmet food and sardines while watching elite international racers streak past in one of the city's biggest free festivals.

"There's something for absolutely everyone, from bike racing fanatics to amateur cyclists to corporate executives and little kids," said Michael Halstead, president of Sports & Co., which originated both the CoreStates race and the Tour of America series of pro bicycle races.


Philadelphia-based CoreStates Bank enters its 13th year as title sponsor of the 1997 race in that city, slated for June 15. The competition is the prototype for a series of major city races Sports & Co. plans to add to the Tour of America's schedule in the next five years.

Sports & Co. wants to double the number of stops on the tour, which currently stands at 10 annual professional races in eight markets. At the same time, Sports & Co. wants to attract several major new national tour sponsors.

General Motors Corp.'s Saturn and Coca-Cola Co.'s Fresca are the current national Tour of America sponsors. Mr. Halstead expects to add four more-a package delivery service, a financial services marketer, a fast-food company and an airline. Prices will range from the high six figures to more than $1 million for national tour sponsorship rights.


Saturn, a staunch supporter of the CoreStates and the Tour of America, is an ideal sponsor because of its longtime commitment to cycling sponsorship, Mr. Halstead said.

The import-fighting unit of GM latched onto the sport in the early 1990s because of its following among young, highly educated professionals, a Saturn spokesman said.

"Sponsorship is a two-way street-a race needs a sponsor's long-term support and commitment, and the sponsor needs to stick with the race long enough to make its investment pay off," Mr. Halstead said.


But the challenge that Stamford, Conn.-based Sports & Co. faces in expanding its national sponsorship roster is continuing to meet the needs of individual races' title sponsors, which have been key to the Tour of America's success so far.

Working closely with each local title sponsor, such as CoreStates and Thrifty Drug (which sponsors another annual race on the tour), Sports & Co. has managed to also satisfy secondary local sponsors such as Sun Co. and Coors Light. Coors Light, for instance, sponsors The Wall, the most challenging hill on the CoreStates race and the most heavily watched section of the route.

Other sponsors are featured in race-related events drawing thousands each year, including the consumer expo where gourmet food and sardines are available for sampling; a kids area offering games, clowns and face painting; and a variety of hands-on bicycle racing experiences open to the public on the course before the race.

Corporate hospitality for sponsors has mushroomed to become an important component of race sponsorship. Last summer, CoreStates entertained 7,000 guests and clients at catered pavilions featuring closed-circuit TV coverage of the race and shuttle rides for close-up glimpses of the competition.

CoreStates also entertained 11,000 of its employees at the race.


Last year, Sports & Co. added merchandise to the CoreStates event, selling apparel, gifts and related race items through local shops and a national catalog promoted in Bicycle Guide magazine; the company plans to expand the merchandise program this year to include more Tour of America merchandise as well.

"People wanted to wear bike race apparel as everyday clothing, so we came up with that, plus other gift items that have become quite successful," Mr. Halstead said.

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