Springs places 5th, all according to plan

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Colorado Springs made an intentional bid on one of the last legs of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge race with the understanding that later stages promise even bigger slices of the economic pie.

In the 2012 race, which is classified as second only to the Tour de France, cyclists will race out of Breckenridge to downtown Colorado Springs in stage five of the seven-day race. It’s a Friday, and it’s just where the city wants to be, said Chris Carmichael, one of three Colorado Springs race organizing committee chairs and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems.

A study of 2011 race attendance showed that more fans lined the streets in the last days of the seven-day race than at the start of the race as the 135 riders headed toward the Denver finish. All told, an estimated 1 million fans lined the 518-mile route.

“What we saw this year is every day there were more and more fans out there and toward the end there was more excitement,” Carmichael said. “We wanted to be a stage finish toward the end of the race.”

This month, race officials announced Colorado Springs as one of 12 host cities in the seven-day cycling race, which is estimated to have had an $83.5 million economic impact on the state in its first year.

The Springs was among 24 cities that bid on a chance to be part of the second USA Pro Cycling Challenge race, scheduled for Aug. 20-26. It won because of the city’s increased financial commitment in 2012, the 14,000-room hotel scene and local race enthusiasm, said Brian Farris, USA Pro Cycling Challenge chief operating officer.

“People in Colorado Springs showed up in force, and for five and a half miles, it was shoulder to shoulder fans,” Farris said. “We loved it — that made it a real easy decision to come back.”

Colorado Springs is hoping to double its attendance in 2012, and possibly double this year’s estimated $2 million economic impact in Springs’ hotels and restaurants.

“I would not be surprised if we saw the fans approaching 200,000, which would be awesome,” Carmichael said.

The Springs is where the 2011 inaugural seven-day professional cycling race kicked off this summer with a timed trial and big name cyclists including Levi Leipheimer and Timmy Duggan racing out of Garden of the Gods Park and into downtown Colorado Springs.

Across the state, an estimated 22 percent of spectators were from out of the state. So, hotels were a big consideration when choosing the 2012 route, Farris said. Just the traveling entourage is more than 1,000 people, he said. Colorado Springs has about 14,000 hotel rooms, including bed and breakfast rooms.

“One of the things we were really happy about here in Colorado Springs, they had over 2,000 rooms booked that opening weekend and that is just phenomenal,” Farris said. “The ability for the town to handle the influx of fans is important.”

The host cities also had to be of “high caliber and have a certain charm and a certain appeal,” Farris said. And, they had to be part of a route where fans could watch several stages. In 2011, the average fan visited 2.9 stages.

No one was sure how the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge would shake out, said Meredith Vaughan, Colorado Springs race organizing committee chair and president of Vladimir Jones.

The city ponied up $60,000 of in-kind services. Two downtown taxing districts, the Downtown Development Authority and the Business Improvement District, spent $65,000 on the pre-race party, giant flowerpots and a mural of local pro cyclist Danny Pate on the west wall of the Alamo Corporate Center at Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue.

But, it was the first-time event and no one knew if the payoff would be there, Vaughan said.

“There were a lot of ifs out there,” she said.

The prologue was on a Monday at 1 p.m. To get people jazzed, local organizers hosted a dozen pre-race events leading up to the prologue including a sold-out $200 a ticket gala, a Kids on Bikes ride and a downtown party featuring bands, artists and dozens of booths.

“We had a great event,” Vaughan said. “I think we were able to set the tone for the entire race.”

Still, Colorado Springs did not have an automatic slot for the 2012 race. And, this year, word was out that race spectators spent $67 million on hotels, food, transportation and entertainment while the USA Pro Cycling Challenge staff and race sponsors dropped $16 million on vendor spending, employment created by the event and local taxes.

“We knew the competition was going to be stiff for 2012,” Vaughan said. “We knew we had even more work to do to prove we were worthy of getting a stage.”

For the 2012 race, the City of Colorado Springs pumped up its offerings to $100,000 of in-kind services including, police, fire protection and barricades, Vaughan said.

Farris said it was the Springs’ cycling enthusiasm and the city’s commitment that gave Colorado Springs the edge over other competing towns.

“It’s an investment they have to justify,” Farris said. “But, the fact that all the host cities from this year reapplied really talked to the impact this race had on those communities and the return they get.”

The long-term impact the city receives in television exposure could have tourists booking vacations in the Springs for years to come. In the 2011 study of the race’s economic impact, done by IFM sports research firm, nearly 85 percent of out-of-state visitors surveyed said they are more likely or much more likely to visit Colorado again based on their experience at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

It’s that long-term exposure that the local organizing committee is counting on, Vaughan said.

“We are thrilled to bring this back,” Vaughan said. “Imagine what Friday will look like based on what we did on a Monday afternoon at 1 p.m.”