by Rick Langenberg:
Woodland Park city officials and head promoters are ready to peddle fast and furious for another bid to become a sprint location, or even a more strategic point, for the next USA Pro Challenge, when world renowned cyclists again race across the state. Moreover, they are dubbing the recent cycling showdown, which rolled through Woodland Park in record speed on Aug. 24 during a mostly downhill stage from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs, as a huge community success. And in Cripple Creek, officials are equally bullish about one of one of their main summer galas, the Salute to American Veterans Rally and motorcycle ride, citing crowds of 60,000-plus people that frequented the town during the four-day festival that ran from Aug. 16 to Aug. 19.
However, on the downside, some business operators in both Woodland Park and Cripple Creek were less than thrilled regarding both events, and say they experienced a huge decline in customers due to access problems. They are requesting more input in how these festivals and competitions are handled in the future. These are some of the preliminary reactions from the signature events that occurred in both towns that generated thousands of visitors.
USA Pro Challenge “The Stage 5 Sprint of the USA Pro Challenge was a definite home run,” said Mike Perini, of Perini and Associates, who headed the local marketing efforts for the cycling sprint. “I have been told this was the largest crowd to witness any event that occurred down the main highway in town. It created significant exposure for Woodland Park.” In addition, Perini says race officials dubbed the Woodland Park sprint location as one of the largest crowds of the week-long competition for a ride-through sprint area. City Manager David Buttery, who did an engineer-based traffic analysis in tabulating the count, estimated that a little more than 5,000 people viewed the cycling sprint from Hwy. 24. “It was extremely successful from a community standpoint,” said Buttery, who expects Woodland Park to make another bid next year and to try to play a definite role in the competition. Although he would like to see certain changes, Buttery cited the overall race excitement and enthusiastic crowds a big plus. “There was a lot of energy and excitement in town. We were very happy with the crowds,” said Buttery.
That factor could bode well for Woodland Park getting a return bid as a sprint site, or key ride-through junction, or a side venture, such as maybe a race up Pikes Peak. According to media reports, crowds were slightly down this year at the mountain communities, especially for the host cities, for the second annual Pro Challenge. Plus, a decision to ban overnight camping and hanging out in vehicles along Hwy. 82 near the top of Independence Pass put a damper on the large fan base that usually frequented those popular sections of the race. However, race officials are once again lauding the Challenge as a big winner for Colorado with frequent comparisons drawn to the Tour de France. Perini says the event generated a tremendous amount of pre-cycling buzz with parades, costume contests, various competitions, live entertainment, kids activities and more. He says much of the credit needs to be given to a local committee that helped organize the main events and got the word out about the event. “The committee was tremendous,” said Perini, who hopes to publicly thank the committee members at a formal city council meeting. Similar sentiments were echoed by Mayor Dave Turley, who says the cycling showdown depicted Woodland Park in a positive light. “I am very proud of the citizens of Woodland Park, the city staff and the organizing committee. We came off as a great community.” According to Turley, city officials and leaders made a decision several months ago to turn the cycling event into a major festival for Woodland Park and Teller County. And if anything, Buttery said the city staff and the organizing committee wants to get the ball rolling much earlier next year. “This was really Beth Kosley’s vision,” said Buttery, in describing the work of the former economic development director in succeeding to convince Pro Challenge officials to make Woodland as a key ride-through point in the Stage 5 showdown and to qualify as one of the few sprint line locations along this route. But once she left the city’s services due to health reasons, officials then had to come up with a plan to promote the event locally and throughout the region.
That’s when Buttery selected Perini & Associates to help market the local phase of Stage 5 Sprint. A volunteer committee was formed to handle promotions, logistics, events and business support. City leaders and volunteer committee members had to hit the ground running and held weekly meetings. “It was a good learning experience,” added Turley, who believes the city can wave a definite victory flag As for future improvements, Buttery says he wants to get more businesses involved. Reaction from the business community was somewhat mixed with many shops reveling in the Challenge and pre-race hype and even organizing block parties in front of their shops.
Other business owners, though, reported a definite decline in customers and say their regular customers stayed away due to the perception of the highway getting shut down for an extended period. Some also grumbled about access problems. In reality, a lengthy closure of Hwy. 24 never occurred, despite the electronic billboard warnings. Turley says some of these perceptions need to get cleared up, if the city lands a spot in next year’s Pro Challenge. “It was our first time handling an event like this. There are lessons to be learned,” explained the mayor. Ultimately, the details of submitting a future bid for the 2013 USA Pro Challenge will be handled by the city’s new economic development and DDA (Downtown Development Authority) director. Officials are in the process of selecting the new person to fill the former slot of Kosley. Buttery believes that with Woodland Park’s limited lodging and infrastructure, it probably can’t qualify as a host city or final stage finishing point. But he is optimistic that the city could snag another sprint location designation, or even get selected as a key juncture for a side race. As an example, he sees that at some point the Challenge may consider a side trek up Pikes Peak. “We would be in a great starting spot for a race up America’s most famous mountain,” said the city manager.