Quizno’s Pro Challenge will mean millions for the city

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Landing the prologue stage of this summer’s Quiznos Pro Challenge cycling race was a breakaway move for Colorado Springs.

While 23 Colorado cities bid for the opportunity to host a stage of the race, which draws top international competitors, only 11 made the cut. Notably absent from the list was Boulder, the birthplace of the Coors Classic cycling event, which was last held in 1988. Boulder was boxed in by budget constraints.

After a couple of years of financial distress of its own, the Springs is now the starting point for an inaugural race that organizers are calling the Tour de France of North America.

With six months remaining, the local organizing committee — a nonprofit created for the race, named the Pikes Peak Cycling Society — is pedaling hard to work out the details. Its goal: to stage such a successful race that the Springs can wear the leader’s jersey each year.

What’s so special about hosting the prologue of the seven-day race? The answer: economic impact.

Dollars and cents

Hosting the prologue stage on Aug. 22, a Monday, puts Colorado Springs at the head of the peloton, as it were.

Unlike other cities in the race, the Springs will have the competitors in town four to five days ahead of time, instead of just the night before. This means the city can host pre-race events and parties, with the cyclists on hand, for more than 100,000 fans who are expected to arrive early and spend, spend, spend.

Race organizers are reluctant to predict a specific economic impact because this is an inaugural tour. But they say this event could surpass the Tour of Missouri in number of spectators and economic benefit because it will take place during August, while Missouri’s race has been held in September, when many fans remain close to home because of school.

Despite the timing, spectators in Missouri spent $38.1 million during the seven-day event in 2009, according to an impact report generated by Germany-based IFM Sports, which does sports marketing and research (the company’s American operations are based in St. Louis). The average out-of-state visitor spent more than $220 per day and stayed four days, according to IMF.

Of course, the Springs and Colorado also stand to gain invaluable national and international television exposure.

Sponsors

Steve Brunner, president of Springs-based King of the Mountain Sports Marketing and head of sales and marketing for the QPC race, is soliciting race sponsors at the national and regional levels. He has promoted other tours, including the Tour of California and the Tour of China.

Denver-based Quiznos, a national sandwich chain, is the title sponsor.

Logistically, the first year is challenging, he said, because there’s a “high education curve” for prospective sponsors for new events.

“We’re certainly trying to fast-track the marketing, and there’s a lot of good momentum behind the scenes right now,” Brunner said.

To support it locally, the race needs 15 to 20 sponsors at varying levels. Nationally, the event requires 30 to 35 sponsors, he said. Inherent to a cycling race is the need to draw spectators to line the route: Because tickets aren’t sold for cycling races, sponsors need as much publicity as possible to recoup their expenses.

Pre-race events

A 1984 U.S. Olympian and member of the 7-Eleven Pro Cycling team, Chris Carmichael, founder and CEO of Springs-based Carmichael Training Systems, heads the local organizing committee for the race.

He expects between 500,000 and 700,000 visitors from 20 to 25 countries for the entire pro challenge, basing these numbers on similar pro cycling events in the U.S. and Europe.

Several pre-race events are planned, including an opening gala and team presentation, both of which are customary at the Tour de France.

“We’ve adopted that in North America, and the Quiznos race will be no different,” Brunner said.

Typically, a gala includes introducing each team, a silent auction, music, dinner and more. Organizers are planning the dinner with all the race teams at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Next on the list is an autograph pit row, so race fans can meet some of the world’s top cyclists, Carmichael said.

And one of the biggest undertakings would be a health and wellness exposition — a miniature tent city near the downtown finish line.

Several amateur events are also in the works, including BMX racing at the local BMX track; an amateur race and fun ride to the summit of Pikes Peak; a kids’ bike parade, and outreach education in local schools, promoting nutrition and healthy living choices, Carmichael said.

Nitty gritty

On hand to map out the infrastructure, get route approvals and run traffic control is Randy Shafer, a Colorado Springs architect who is technical director of the prologue.

During his tenure as a cycling official since 1983, his travels have taken him to more than 12 countries, where he’s staged cycling events.

Pending approval by the city, race organizers intend the prologue time trial to start at 2 p.m. in the middle of Garden of the Gods and end at Colorado and Cascade avenues downtown. The course will be about 5 or 6 miles.

About 16 teams and 120 to 130 riders will compete in the race. In a time trial, cyclists start at one-minute intervals. Toward the end, however, the “star” cyclists will start at two-minute intervals, because of the heightened publicity they receive. The stars are followed by television motorcycles, VIP cars and officials’ cars, which broadcast their speed as they race.

Except in extenuating circumstances, each cyclist races on the course alone.

“A time trial is a race of truth,” Shafer said. “There’s no one to draft off of, nobody to lead you out. You can’t ride protected from the wind and then sprint at the end.”

During races, fans typically line up at the toughest corners and the fastest straightaways to see the most action.

To ensure safety for the cyclists, roads along the race route will be closed and city and school buses rerouted, although locals must have access to their property.

“The course has a couple of incredibly hard-to-negotiate corners, taken at high speed. We expect the winner to be at 10.5 to 11 minutes, so they’ll be taking risks and moving hard,” Shafer said.

That’s because the winner of the prologue gets to wear the leader’s yellow jersey on the first day of the race.

“Time trials are actually one of the more potentially dangerous stages,” said Shafer. “You rarely have an accident on a time trial, but if you do, it could be serious.”

To lessen that possibility, hay bales will line the toughest corners, such as the descent on Ridge Road, coming out of Garden of the Gods, with a left turn onto either Pikes Peak or Colorado avenues.

“It’s a sharp turn and a little off camber,” Shafer said.

Local boost

Locally, Vladimir Jones, a public relations agency, is handling some of the marketing and social media. On March 10, the Vladimir team will present its marketing plan to the local organizing committee, said Meredith Vaughan, the agency’s president.

“Whether you’re 8 or 80, we will have an event for nearly everyone,” she said.

“This race allows us to take one of our products — the sports culture, outdoor mindset and lifestyle — and put it on the world stage,” Vaughan said. “We’re using this race as the tipping point for that, in hopes we’ll get the prologue stage every year this event is in Colorado.”

The most important thing that local organizers want to show, she said, is that this race is a community event, and if the entire community is engaged, it will be successful.

For Colorado Springs, the stakes are high. There’s only one chance to get it right, or lose the prologue next year to another city. There’s no riding in the slipstream.

Battle of the bikes

The 2011 Quiznos Pro Challenge Stages

Aug. 22 — Stage 1, Prologue time trial, Colorado Springs

Aug. 23 — Stage 2, Salida to Crested Butte, mountaintop finish

Aug. 24 — Stage 3, Gunnison to Aspen, mountain stage

Aug. 25 — Stage 4, Vail, time trail, former Coors Classic stage

Aug. 26 — Stage 5, Avon to Steamboat Springs

Aug. 27 — Stage 6, Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge

Aug. 28 — Stage 7, Golden to Denver

To view the latest race news, visit www.quiznosprochallenge.com.