Springs should embrace its ’86 cycling roots

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pro-cyclingThree years ago this week, the USA Pro Challenge brought world-class cycling back to Colorado Springs after a 25-year absence.

With the global TV coverage showing many breathtaking camera views around Garden of the Gods and above the city, the Pro Challenge sprang to life in August 2011 as Colorado Springs hosted the Prologue time trial.

A year later, this city returned to the spotlight with the dramatic finish of a stage race, which started in Breckenridge and ended with three laps around downtown before ending on Tejon Street.

That day in 2012, Colorado Springs felt like a big-time cycling venue with thousands of spectators crammed into downtown. It seemed unfathomable that the USA Pro Challenge ever would take place without our city sharing the stage. But that happened last year, when the race organizers took their 2013 event on a more northerly route. Nobody ever said the Springs had failed, just that we wouldn’t be able to count on having a permanent spot in the Pro Challenge.

The event returns on Thursday, Aug. 21, with the most ambitious local undertaking yet. Having the cyclists start at The Broadmoor, racing northward on 21st Street and then making four circuits of a course from Garden of the Gods to downtown, should produce a memorable stage.

But it still feels as though Colorado Springs is missing out on a link to its past, something that might be utilized to elevate this city’s stature in comparison with the rest of Colorado.

We’re not talking about ancient history, either. Nobody talked much in 2011-12 — just as they aren’t now — about the event that could have launched the Pikes Peak region into permanent orbit as an international cycling mecca.

Anyone living here at the time should remember the 1986 World Cycling Championships, which dominated that entire summer throughout the area. That world event never had been hosted by a North American city, but that changed after the 7-Eleven Velodrome was built in Memorial Park to provide high-altitude training for U.S. cyclists before the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

After a major campaign by Springs-based USA Cycling, with support from the U.S. Olympic Committee, Colorado Springs secured the World Cycling Championships, and the buildup began.

By that summer of 1986, many competing nations had decided to send their athletes and support contingents to Colorado for weeks or even several months of preparation. They came from the Soviet Union, East and West Germany, the rest of Europe, Australia, Japan and more.

And it was a culture shock — for both sides. As Sydney Schuster reported for Bicycle Guide magazine, “Colorado Springs, America’s largest small town, wasn’t quite ready for the Worlds. After all, who else would sic police dogs on the World Pursuit Champion and ask you not to ride your bike in their hotel rooms?”

Obviously, the visitors expected better treatment. And for weeks leading into the Worlds, there were stories of Springs residents having road-rage fits because many cyclists were oblivious to cars. Looking back, it was a wonder nobody was killed.

But when the events arrived, they were no less than amazing. Crowds of 8,000 or more jammed into temporary stands at the velodrome every day and night for more than a week. They marveled at the cycling superstars such as Lutz Hesslich and Michael Huebner of East Germany, Martin Vinnicombe of Australia, Viacheslav Ekimov of the Soviet Union and Jeannie Longo of France.

Then there were the Americans, many of whom had spent extensive time living and training in Colorado Springs, among them Mark Gorski, Rebecca Twigg, Steve Hegg, Connie Paraskevin and Nelson Vails.

After the track events, the road races centered on the Air Force Academy became anticlimactic, with cold and fog dampening the atmosphere and the crowds. But that didn’t stop many area residents from coming away with a much heightened respect for the sport and its athletes.

One might have thought that the afterglow surely would have created more lasting benefits for Colorado Springs, but that didn’t happen. We have a fast-developing cycling industry in our midst now, but we can’t say it’s a direct result of what happened in 1986.

Again, though, that wasn’t generations ago. Surely the TV stations and daily newspapers, all of which covered that event heavily, would be able to retrieve video highlights, photos and more.

And perhaps the next time Colorado Springs can be part of the USA Pro Challenge, we might bring back many of those 1986 athletes for a reunion, some special rides and perhaps even a masters-level competition.

It’s all about embracing our history, especially one chunk that could help us elevate ourselves.

One Response to Springs should embrace its ’86 cycling roots

  1. My wife and I were volunteers at those events in 1986. They were a lot of fun and the athletes were great from all countries. We traded pins with many of the athletes. I remember those East German women had some of the largest thighs I ever saw on a female. It was still cold war days and the Russians and other Eastern block countries had some serious escorts with their entourage.

    August 15, 2014 at 8:46 pm