Race Clock Ticking For USA Pro Challenge Preparations

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“Seventh Inning” of cycling raising ire of business operators

by Rick Langenberg

Although it’s a month and a half away, preparations are proceeding rapidly in Woodland Park for what some organizers are calling the “seventh inning” of the most significant national cycling race in the United States.

According to marketing consultant Mike Perini, chairman for the local organizing committee of the Stage 5 USA Pro Challenge that launches from downtown Woodland Park and heads up Hwy. 24 through Teller and Park counties and eventually ends in Breckenridge, an entire week of activities are scheduled. These events start on Aug. 15 and culminate on Aug. 22, the date of the Stage 5 launch. “We want people to stay here,” said Perini, in describing one of the goals of the local Stage 5 committee.

These activities include an art walk kick-off party, a Saddle Club street dance, a 5k fun race and walk, a family bike ride, a carnival, a bike rodeo and parade, a variety of organized mountain bike rides for beginners and experts, art festivities, a concert and night bike ride, just to name a few highlights. 

Perini admits the Stage 5 start requires a massive amount of preparation, with a central staging area, VIP and media sections, and parking for more than 700 people, with spots needed for all the cycling teams, crew members and various event personnel. In some ways, it almost resembles setting up a mini-sports village or military camp. The main staging area will be located at the Tweeds parking lot.

The city is gambling big on the event with a $60,000-plus contribution for its part in the event as a host city, but it is hoping to recoup this money through various sponsorships. Perini says the publicity hype from the race is unprecedented. “You can’t buy the global coverage we will generate for Woodland Park,” said the owner of Perini & Associates. “You can’t purchase that. This is a great opportunity. It is phenomenal.”

Current statistics indicted the race is viewed by more than one million people across the world, with the Challenge drawing comparisons to the Tour de France, which kicked off this week.

And from a competitive perspective, Perini says the Stage 5 launch, scheduled for the late morning of Aug. 22, represents a strategic part of the seven-day race occurring throughout many resort and mountain areas. “In baseball terms, it’s like the seventh inning,” said Perini, who cites Stage 5 as one of the more challenging and pivotal treks in the race, where cyclists who are trailing in the competition will have to make a move. Prior to the official start of Stage 5, cyclists will do a few preliminary side routes in the downtown corridor.

Business owners voice concerns

However, some local business owners in the downtown district aren’t enthralled about the event, whether it’s the seventh inning or not. They are hedging their bets on a cycling strike-out and see an event that will cripple local commerce. “I just don’t see it as that big of a deal. They will be here and gone in a flash. It sounds like another Woodland Park bust. This sounds like a complete disaster. Why is Woodland Park so anti-business?” These are a few of the concerns voiced by local business operators in the downtown in the last few weeks.

Some business owners are worried about access into their shops for their employees and customers during a prime Friday in the summer, highlighted by the Farmer’s Market and other regular festivities. Local business owners in the downtown are currently being warned about potential parking problems. Some are wondering if they should even open their doors.

According to Debbie Miller, president of the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce, more than 140 businesses, shops and service outlets in the downtown area have been personally contacted to help them deal with the impacts associated with the race and to keep them informed of what to expect. “We are telling them to open for business, but to try something different,” said Miller, who is advising local shops to set up outlets or vendor spots outside for this particular morning. She admits this type of event probably won’t benefit local businesses from a bottom-line sales standpoint for that particular morning, but could have residual effects throughout the summer due to the exposure Woodland Park will receive.

“People are coming to watch the race,” explained Miller. “There will be a lot of out-of-state people. They (local business operators) could see a lot of return customers.” Stage 5 proponents cite the popularity of the Challenge two years ago, when Woodland Park served as a sprint location and key drive-through juncture in the mostly downhill trek between Breckenridge and Colorado Springs. In 2012, Woodland Park attracted one of the largest crowds for a community of its size for towns the Challenge cyclists streaked through.

The popularity of the race in Woodland Park is one reason local officials believe Woodland Park was given the nod this year as a host community for the USA Pro Challenge. Perini cites the many pluses of the event. He notes that many spectators that attend these cycling events are quite affluent. The average income of cycling fans for these events is estimated at $100,000-plus, according to the committee chairman. He believes local business will have a unique opportunity to cater to different customers. “Cycling is a high-income sport,” added Miller.

Moreover, the chamber president says that much more excitement will occur this time due to the town’s role as a host community. “When we were a sprint location two years ago, the cyclists came through here in a flash. This time there is going to more of a build-up and much more excitement. This will be a good opportunity for the whole area and not just Woodland Park,” explained Miller.

Cycling fans for events like this are also known for their bizarre costumes and behavior at times. In the next month, more details will be finalized regarding the race details.