by Rick Langenberg:
The big cycling invasion and launch-off in Woodland Park won’t occur in 2015, with the Pikes Peak region getting bypassed for the annual USA Pro Challenge race. As a result, don’t look for caravans of international teams, huge television cameras and helicopters and a mini-sports village, as well as the temporary takeover of many downtown business parking lots, for a prime time event next summer. In fact, the entire Pikes Peak region has received the cycling snub for the summer of 2015, with the USA Pro Challenge organizers proposing a route that encompasses more of central and northern Colorado. But once again, the big winners are several big ski resort towns, such as Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen, and of course Denver, where the week-long event concludes.
However, local Pro Challenge organizing officials are bullishly optimistic about a return race in 2016 and may evaluate possible competitive side routes and ways to coordinate expenses and enhance better communications.“This decision was expected,” said Mike Perini of Perini & Associates, who headed the local organizing committee of the 2014 Pro Challenge Stage 5 route, featuring a 104-mile trek between Woodland Park and Breckenridge, with a festive and ceremonial start in downtown Woodland. “We are not disappointed.”
Perini and other local Pro Challenge proponents say they were warned of the race organizers intent to deviate a little for 2015. Some race committee members are expressing much relief, as Woodland Park’s status as a host city for 2014 served as quite a challenge for local business operators, civic leaders and volunteers. Plus, the total expenses incurred by the city exceeded budget expectations by tens of thousands of dollars, an issue that commanded discussion during the recent 2015 budget meetings (see related story). One council member suggested that the city charter may have to be altered, if government officials seek to obtain this kind of expense in future years without the okay of elected leaders.
Perini, though, believes Woodland Park and the entire area will be seriously considered in the future. “Woodland Park is on the short-list for 2016,” said the local committee leader. “They will be back. They (the Pro Challenge race committee leaders) were very impressed with what we did as a host community and with the crowd support and enthusiasm we had.” “We feel we delivered a good product for Pro Challenge and for the community,” added City Manager David Buttery.
But that said, it’s still unlikely that Woodland Park would qualify as a final race destination area for one of the seven stages of the competition due to its limited lodging capabilities However, a few tentative side-routes and trial runs have been mulled such as a route between Woodland Park and Deckers, north of town, a trek between Woodland Park and Cripple Creek, and even a possible journey up and down Pikes Peak. Perini touts the fact that Woodland Park was awarded the best host start community for the 2014 Pro Challenge race. The local committee leader also says Shawn Hunter, the chief executive officer of USA Pro Challenge, has spoken highly of Woodland Park in frequent media interviews.
The Woodland Park City Council has indicated the thumbs-up for a future return of the Pro Challenge race, citing the publicity for the area and the long-term benefits.
However, some local business operators, especially local restaurant owners, have given the event a lukewarm response, saying they experienced a plunge in revenue for one of the prime days of the summer season. Other complaints dealt the short length of the launch, with huge expenses for a mere 10 minutes of cycling, the inconvenience associated with blocking off regular parking and too much competition with Colorado Springs. Some contend that Woodland Park just didn’t have the ammunition to contend with such a big city and cycling hub as Colorado Springs, which conducted a number of events the day prior to the Woodland Park cycling launch.
Unfortunately, the Woodland Park Stage 5 start was hampered by bad weather, which also impacted the media coverage of the entire Stage 5 showdown itself.
A strong cycling tradition
Woodland Park has had strong ties with the Pro Challenge event. In 2012, during the race’s second year, Woodland was awarded a designation as a sprint community and a key ride-through juncture during the jaunt between Breckenridge and Colorado Springs.
According to some business operators, that designation was a real plus, with what they described as better crowds on the main street that what was experienced last summer. But from the city’s standpoint, Woodland Park’s status as a host community in 2014 served as a dream opportunity. Despite complaints by some business owners, Perini cites the global exposure for the event, the second-biggest cycling race in the world, with one million-plus television viewers.“We brought the world to Woodland Park,” said Buttery, during several media interviews. The race is patterned after the Tour de France competition and features more than 100 professional cyclists from around the world. The seven day event tries to include different parts of the state. But since the race’s inception in 2011, the big ski resorts have been the main winners of the Pro Challenge and frequently been selected as start and final destination areas. “The (Pro Challenge) race committee loves the ski towns and they love the race,” said one member of the local organizing group.
Perini said the city may want to consider evaluating ways to improve their planning efforts to cut down the overall expenses and to work with more businesses. For the Stage 5 showdown, the city organized a whole week of events. Technically, the door has not been completely shut on Woodland Park and even Colorado Springs for the 2015 race. The USA Pro Challenge committee has sought “dream routes” from within 150 miles of Breckenridge and Denver. However, at the same time, Pro Challenge leaders have warned local officials not to spend too much time on these proposals with southern Colorado not in the forefront for the August 2015 race.
The proposed 2015 route will kick off from Steamboat Springs and include stops in Arapahoe Basin, Cooper Mountain, Aspen and Breckenridge, with the final stretch between Golden and downtown Denver.