Bicyclists seek monument for pro race venue in 2012

Some local bicyclists and city leaders still recall the frenetic fervor of the 1980s-era Coors International Bike Classic with its epic stage race across Colorado National Monument. At the time, a cadre of the world’s elite riders flew up steep switchbacks and whizzed down the red rock-flanked road, cheered along the way by thousands of adoring fans.

Local supporters want to resurrect some of those same images that three decades ago placed the Grand Valley on the map as television stations beamed one of the world’s premier cycling events around the planet.

They see a similar economic draw in a new statewide bicycling race, Quiznos Pro Challenge, which debuts next summer.

“For this race, this will be one of the most recognizable road races, period,” said Scott Mercier, a former U.S. Olympic cyclist and a member of the startup organizing committee.

“This is a name-brand marquee course,” he said of the monument route. “We could get 50,000 people up the east side of the monument. This is JUCO times 10 easily.”

Grand Junction city leaders and committee members passed on the opportunity this summer to offer Grand Junction as a host city for the 2011 race, which is slated for Aug. 22–28. It will wend through 11 Colorado cities, including Aspen, Vail, Colorado Springs and Denver.

Organizers determined that a window of only a few months was not enough time to coordinate a bid for Grand Junction next year, especially considering buy-in costs of $150,000 to $300,000.

Local committee members decided during a recent meeting to press for Grand Junction as a host city for the 2012 race and identified Colorado National Monument as their first route choice. Other routes will be identified later and added to the proposal, members said,

Committee members plan to offer Grand Junction as a start-and-finish course, meaning cyclists would race locally and finish in Grand Junction. Members said the option would be the most viable one for the race’s first year locally, and the city commitment would cost less, making it easier to raise funds to submit a proposal.

Cities can bid for other race options including an overall start, which would draw racers, support teams, media and fans days before a race start. Cities also can work in tandem to divvy up a start and finish stage race option.

“I think this is a little bit of realism of how we can get that kind of support in a community that’s tight right now,” committee member Tim Foster, president of Mesa State College, said of raising funds for a pared-down proposal.

Estimated costs for a start-finish option may be up to about $250,000. Race organizers expect concessions for races to include hotel rooms, meals, areas for media to operate and law enforcement support. Those costs can be leveraged through fundraising and business sponsorships.

Foster, Community Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Thomas and Western Colorado Region President of U.S. Bank Steve Gunderson, among other city and economic leaders, make up the organizing committee.

Colorado National Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo said she has not yet received official word about a proposal, though plans are getting under way to discuss the option. Like any special event, a committee would first have to gain a permit.

“I would not hazard to guess how we would even respond,” Anzelmo said. “I have no way to calculate whether we would say yes or no.”

Anzelmo said staff is first charged with protecting the monument and must consider adverse affects to the area that a race might cause and lessen the monument experience for future visitors and users of the area.

“Typically a pro race like that is really hard to pull off in a national park,” she said.

Barbara J. Bowman, division manager of Grand Junction’s Visitor and Convention Bureau, said she has been talking with business leaders in California communities to gauge the economic impact of the Amgen Tour of California.

“Overall it was all positive,” she said. “The communities say the race was great, and they loved hosting it. It really helped put them on the map for a biking destination.”

It’s important to distinguish that some of those California cities, including Santa Rosa and Solvang, have much higher population densities than Grand Junction, Bowman said.

Furthermore, she said, some communities reported that costs to host race stages, depending on the type of race, were expensive, varying from $150,000 to $400,000. To combat those costs, communities launched fundraising efforts, including sponsorship of local bike rides and selling cowbells while hotels offered some complimentary hotel rooms.

An estimated 650 hotel rooms would be needed in Grand Junction to house the teams and staff, according to preliminary counts.

Chris Reed, owner of Ascent Productions with his wife, Amy, is serving as a liaison to Medalist Sports, which is organizing the Pro Challenge. Reed said the return on investment for a race of this caliber is $6 for every $1 dollar invested.

Medalist Sports was the organizer for the now defunct Tour of Missouri, the Tour of Georgia and the Tour of California.

In three years, the Tour of Missouri race pumped $112 million into the economy and drew 1.3 million spectators, but it was discontinued after the Missouri Tourism Board withdrew its sponsorship.

The Tour of Georgia boosted that state’s economy with $187 million in six years from 2003 to 2008, but it has not been revived because of a lack of sponsorship.

The Tour of California remains the brightest star in the domestic cycling world, and its economic impact to local communities continues to be viable, Reed and Bowman said.

In five years, it generated $300 million for local communities and attracted four million spectators, according to information from Medalist Sports.

“How do we quantify the exposure?” Reed said of the Pro Challenge. “It’s tough, but it would be big.”


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