And if a proposed route map leaked to The Denver Post last week ends up being the one that race organizers adopt for the highly anticipated event, their cooperative efforts may be about to pay off, big time.
The leaked route map shows pro cyclists pedaling from Durango to Telluride during Stage 1 of the race, spending a night in Telluride, then transferring to Ouray the next morning to begin Stage 2, which would conclude in Crested Butte.
While Ouray is smaller by far than any other communities under consideration, USA Pro Cycling Challenge organizers explained they are looking for radically different criteria in terms of capacity for “start cities” (such as Ouray would be) versus “end cities” (Crested Butte and Telluride, for example, under the proposed configuration). Among other things, “start cities,” must provide a block of only 70 comped hotel rooms for the media and race staffers, compared to the 550 rooms, which “finish cities” are expected to provide.
Additional stages under consideration, as reported in The Denver Post, would take place in Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Colorado Springs, with the final stage running from Lakewood to Boulder. (Montrose, which also put in a bid to be a host city, would see cyclists passing through on their way from Ouray to Crested Butte, but not staying the night.)
Winning the right to host a stage of the elite USA Pro Cycling Challenge – billed as “America’s Race” – would be a coup for Telluride and Durango. Both communities mounted unsuccessful bids to be host cities for last year’s inaugural event, during which 135 of the world’s top cycling athletes (including Olympians, World Champions and Tour de France podium winners) raced 518 miles across Colorado.
The 2011 race concluded in downtown Denver, where streets were packed with a quarter million cycling fans.
In all, according to race promoters, the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge attracted more than 1 million spectators from around the state, the country and the world, and the Colorado economy was the beneficiary of $83.5 million in economic impact.
More than 25 million people watched the race on television, on NBC and Versus, in 161 countries and territories. Event organizers touted the USA Pro Cycling Challenge as one of the largest cycling events in United States history.
“The crowds were big, they were enthusiastic, they spent money in every host city, and just as importantly, they traveled to Colorado especially to see this race,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO and Co-Chairman of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in a recently issued press release.
The 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, scheduled for Aug. 20-26, is expected to garner even more rapt worldwide attention, reaching international markets that no Colorado city on its own could hope to reach with TV advertising.
“It was a surprise to us when Durango lost out last year, because we have a reputation for being such a cycling mecca,” said Durango Public Relations Specialist Ann Klein, part of the local nominating committee working to bring the Pro Cycling Challenge to her city.
“What we learned last year was that we were all isolated, and that communities really need to partner, working as a region to provide the race organizers with options,” she explained. Options such as pointing out how disparate communities across the San Juans might fit together as a viable race-hosting whole.
Simply put, for every Point A, there needs to be a Point B, Klein said, with the ultimate goal of leading cyclists on a dot-to-dot journey across the state, ending up on the Front Range.
“The reality is, it’s tough to get cyclists from the southwest corner of the state all the way to Denver in seven days,” Klein admitted. “We tried to come up with more solutions this year. That required us to reach out to other communities and say ‘Hey, you guys want to play?’”
Telluride, for one, responded to Durango’s invitation with a hearty “Hell yeah.”
Telluride’s local nominating committee had already aggressively reprised its effort to become a host city this year, explained Mayor Stu Fraser, by creating a micro-website focused solely on its bid, complete with helicopter shots of cyclists coming down “The Spur” (Highway 145, the only road in and out of Telluride). “We really romanticized it,” Fraser said. “There’s no place like Telluride. It would be spectacular.”
With its own polished bid package already in the hopper, and with two distinctly spectacular routes connecting the two communities, Telluride was a natural “Point B” for Durango’s proposed “Point A.”
Ouray, as a smaller community without the deep pockets and expansive tourist infrastructure of its neighbors to the south and west, was a harder sell to become “Point C.” In fact, Ouray sat out the official Request for Proposals for cities across Colorado that was issued by race organizers in September, feeling that the requirements outlined in the RFP were likely unattainable.
But a friendly visit from the Durango Nominating Committee in early November, followed by a letter from the folks at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge urging Ouray to become a contender, convinced city staffers and the business community to get in the game.
Over the past two weeks, Ouray has not only written a letter to race organizers supporting Durango’s bid to host Stage 1 of the Pro Cycling Challenge, but has also thrown its own hat in the ring to be considered as a host city, tooting its horn for having successfully hosted events such as the 2010 Ride the Rockies and the annual Ouray Ice Festival.
While host cities are expected to provide tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of in-kind support to the race, the potential payback is immeasurable. “The primary benefit would be the type of coverage you can’t buy anywhere else in terms of being on an international sports stage,” said Ouray Chamber Resort Association’s Operations Manager Kat Papenbrock.
USA Pro Cycling spokeswoman Allison McGee Johnson emphasized this week from race headquarters in Denver that despite the speculation, the leaks and the hype, the 2012 route has not yet been finalized.
Race organizers initially promised to release their final decision regarding the host cities by Thanksgiving. But according to Johnson, that date has since been pushed back to give event organizers time to properly vet the larger-than-expected volume of communities vying to host the this year’s Challenge – 27 in all.
That includes the 11 towns that hosted stages of the 2011 race, all of whom have requested to host again. Other towns interested in being first-time stage hosts next year (besides Telluride, Durango, Ouray and Montrose) are Alamosa, Cañon City, Castle Rock, Crested Butte, Delta, Estes Park, Evergreen, Fort Collins, Frisco, Glenwood Springs, Granby, Greeley, Idaho Springs, Lake City, Longmont, Loveland, Morgul Bismark/Superior, Morrison, Pagosa Springs, Pueblo, Winter Park Resort and Woodland Park.
“There is definitely more interest this year,” Johnson acknowledged. “So many people witnessed the excitement in 2011, and they want to be a part of it this time around.”
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is looking for three things from its host communities, Johnson said: Cities that have “great geography” – places that could function as a postcard to showcase the State of Colorado to the 161 countries that will be tuning in worldwide through television broadcast; cities that provide competitive terrain, to maintain the integrity of the event; and cities that give race organizers the ability to “keep it fresh” by offering new routes from year to year.
Host cities must also prove they have the hospitality and organizational infrastructure to accommodate the hordes of visitors the event has the potential to attract – up to 50,000 in some cases (though not all of them would be spending the night).