Gunnison is gung-ho for Pro race
GUNNISON — It was such a great experience, Gunnison officials had no second thoughts about hosting a stage of the USA Cycling Pro Challenge again this year.
“It’s great for us,” Gunnison Mayor Jonathan Houck said. “There was no hesitation from the city to jump back in and put ourselves as a potential host city. We had a great event last year. We knew exactly what we needed to do and step it up even more.
“The local organizing committee never stopped (working). They debriefed and went right into what they were doing for (this) year. There was never a lull.”
For the second consecutive year, Gunnison hosted the start of the Queen Stage, the challenging ride over Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass to Aspen. This year, it was Stage 3, and it took place Wednesday. Last year, it was Stage 2.
“It seems to me, the Queen Stage is such an epic ride, we’ll continue to propose that as a stage, but we sure want to see the riders come through any opportunity we have,” said Ken Coleman, Gunnison city manager and organizing committee co-chairman. “About 140 miles is where they like to keep it (for a stage race).”
The Pro Challenge cyclists also passed through Gunnison on Tuesday from Montrose on their way to Mount Crested Butte.
Brian and Kristina Kittelson of Fruita were in Gunnison and Crested Butte for both stages, and they said they would love to see a stage in Grand Junction.
“We’re both disappointed not to see a stage in Grand Junction,” Brian Kittelson said. “The thing with the (Colorado National) monument is unlikely, but there are so many other ways it could go. They could go on Unaweep Canyon or Grand Mesa.”
Coleman was disappointed Grand Junction didn’t get a stage as well.
“We offered from the start to help other communities organize their effort,” Coleman said. “From putting an application in, to politically, and getting the monument opened up for this to showcase Colorado. It’s good for all of us, quite honestly.
“With Montrose, we spent a day with them. When they were a successful bid to host, we went through all the logistical ends to figure out what makes this successful.”
The Gunnison Local Organizing Committee, consisting mostly of volunteers, continued working through the fall and winter to come up with a plan to host a start or finish again this year. “We kept the momentum going,” Coleman said. “We’ve grown the festival area, the excitement leading up to the event, the exposure, marketing and working with the USA Pro Cycling folks.
“They suggested different things for the announcers to have a script, so they’re not just winging it. (We had) the ability to bring people on that had the experience last year. We have a lot more food, kids activities, family-oriented things and a film festival for the pass-through event.”
Western State Colorado University, formerly Western State College, offered to be the title sponsor the Stage 3 start Wednesday.
“We felt it was a great opportunity,” said Gary Pierson, Western State vice president of student affairs. “We talked about wanting more exposure for the university. We felt, especially if we did the name change, it would be a great opportunity to expose Western State Colorado University to not only the country, but to the world. You can’t buy coverage like this.”
Pierson said the university put up $25,000, all from the Western State Colorado University Foundation, to be a title sponsor.
“They had the vision and leadership to know this is a great opportunity for us to get exposure,” Pierson said.
Coleman said Gunnison’s financial commitment as a stage host — lodging and meals for the cyclists and production crew — was approximately $80,000. That didn’t include the Jumbotron the city rented to show television coverage of the race in its two-block festival area off Main Street.
“Do we get $80,000 worth of sales tax on that day? I don’t believe so,” Coleman said. “You can’t associate a direct benefit as far as people spending dollars in your community. It’s not easy to define that direct benefit, but if you look at the overall long-term exposure, you cannot buy that commercial time on network television.”
Houck said the Gunnison City Council supported hosting the event the whole way.
Coleman added, “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that were at last year’s event and are coming this year, asking what places to eat and favorite rides. I met a family from Germany, and they thought this was ‘The Western Town’ and wanted to see the cows.”