Colorado is about to step into the international spotlight with the Aug. 22 prologue of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which is expected to be the biggest spectator event in state history, drawing up to 1 million visitors, more than 150 international media organizations and a possible economic impact of $80 million.
Colorado Springs will be in the spotlight, too, but getting there has not come without its costs.
The city, and two downtown taxing districts, the Downtown Development Authority and Business Improvement District, will spend about $145,000 to facilitate the race and capitalize on its hype.
The city will spend $80,000 on police, fire protection and barricades.
The DDA is spending about $50,000 to throw a pre-event party downtown, and the BID has already spent about $15,000 to spruce up downtown with things like giant flowerpots and the three-story television backdrop — a mural of local pro cyclist Danny Pate on the west wall of the Alamo Corporate Center at Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue.
“It’s a lot to invest in one thing,” said Ron Butlin, Downtown Partnership executive director.
However, Butlin and race organizers are hoping to see a big return on that investment with city publicity and throngs of spectators who will open their wallets to spend in Colorado Springs — booked hotel rooms, shopping sprees and restaurant dining along with majestic images of Colorado Springs broadcast around the world.
No one doubts that the number of spectators will be large, but just how large is an educated guess at best.
Race committee members say they don’t know exactly how many spectators to expect, partially because this is the inaugural Pro Challenge race. and they won’t speculate about how much money could come into the city.
They’re relying on past attendance at similarly sized races to as their rule of thumb.
Last year, The Tour of California, one of the top four-stage races in the world, attracted 2 million spectators, so Pro Challenge planners believe it’s reasonable to expect 1 million people in Colorado.
Former Tour of California CEO and Pro Cycling Challenge co-chair Shawn Hunter said the goal of the Pro Cycling Challenge is to be in league with Tour of California and the Tour de France.
It’s certainly got the star power: The top three Tour de France finishers will be competing.
Springs Police are planning for 35,000 spectators along the race route, with a heavy concentration downtown and on the courses sharp turn at Ridge Road and Pikes Peak Avenue, a likely crash site.
“It’s a challenge,” said Chris Carmichael, founder of Springs-based Carmichael Training Systems and chair of the local organizing committee. “It is a first-ever event, nobody knows what they are going to get.”
While spectator and economic impact numbers might be up in the air, one thing is certain, securing and planning for the race has been a painstaking, calculated effort.
In the 1980s, Colorado was king of cycling with its Coors Classic, which grew into two weeks of racing and the fourth-largest race in the world. That race spurred cycling as part of the fabric of the state, Carmichael said.
But, the race ended in 1988, due to lack of sponsors.
This year, Pro Challenge organizers zeroed in on a dozen big sponsors — including founding sponsors Quiznos and Smashburger — rather than trying to pay for the event with lots of small sponsorships, Hunter said. Locally, organizers followed a similar formula, Carmichael said.
The Pro Challenge is the first major pro cycling event in Colorado since the Coors Classic and the pressure is on to make it good, Carmichael said. Twenty-three cities bid for an opportunity to host a stage of the race — 11 won. After the prologue, the race goes through Salida, Crested Butte, Gunnison, Aspen, Vail, Avon, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, Golden and ends in Denver.
The Pikes Peak Cycling Society, a nonprofit created to organize and raise cycling money, placed an intentional bid to get the prologue, Carmichael said.
“It is the greatest opportunity to host the prologue where the race kicks off — we don’t share the stage with anyone else.” he said. “We will have fans coming in to see the bike race, they’ll stay in hotels, they will go to bike shops here, and they will experience Colorado Springs and bring strong economic development four our community.”
The Downtown Partnership is doing its part to capitalize on the opportunity.
It’s hyping the Aug. 21 downtown party on Facebook with prize give-aways, including gift cards to downtown businesses and free T-shirts. It’s hoping to break its event attendance record of 36,000, which was logged for this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb celebration.
Carmichael said he hopes the pre-race events build a racing legacy that will make race organizers keep coming back to Colorado Springs.
Locally there are BMX events, celebration dinners and a ride with the champions — a $495 per ticket event that has fans riding a portion of the race course with professional cyclists. Proceeds from some of the pre-race events will go back to the Pikes Peak Cycling Society, for its expenses in making a bid for the race.
“It’s hard to pack in more in five days than we did,” Carmichael said. “All these events in Colorado Springs are centered on the bike.”
There was no shortage of enthusiasm at an Aug. 11 “Fun Ride” event hosted by USA Cycling. The ride was cancelled because of rain, but about 100 cycling enthusiasts still met to toast the race — and it’s future.
There are no guarantees that Colorado Springs will be a host city in next year’s race, Carmichael said. But, he feels good about its chances.
“I’m a believer in Colorado Springs as an active sports town,” he said. “We want to build a legacy for the event — we will build off the success of this first year.”