Brakes Put on USA Pro Challenge Race

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Popular cycling event maintained close ties with Woodland Park
Rick Langenberg

The big professional cycling invasion in Woodland Park and Teller County and much of the Pikes Peak region could become a trend of the past.

So forget the sight of caravans of international teams, huge television cameras and the takeover of the downtown by cycling pros in the summer, not to mention months of preparation work and anticipation for the area’s chance of grasping several moments of international exposure—at least for the immediate future.

Sports experts and media pundits are predicting the imminent death of the USA Pro Challenge, a week-long professional cycling event in August that occurred throughout the state, with much activity in Teller County. It was touted as Colorado’s version of the Tour de France. Last week, race officials announced that the event won’t occur in 2016. “Building a solid platform of this type takes time and the efforts of many diverse stakeholders,” said USA Pro Challenge Chief Executive Officer Shawn Hunter in a prepared statement. “We have made great strides over the past months and look to relaunch when we finish this phase of the process.”

This news is generating much skepticism about the race’s future due to the failure to attract a national sponsor and because of continual big financial losses for the event.

The event had close ties with Woodland Park, which footed the bill for more than $150,000 in 2014 to serve as a staging site for the beginning of the 104-mile trek between the City Above the Clouds and Breckenridge, one of the final day-long legs of the 2014 event. This put Woodland Park on the international cycling map, a development that has been supported by sports enthusiasts but questioned by some local business operators.

The USA Pro Challenge race also awarded Woodland Park as a sprint community in 2012 and a key ride-through juncture during the jaunt between Breckenridge and Colorado Springs.

The race had strong ties with the city of Colorado Springs. The Pikes Peak region, though, was bypassed during the 2015 race, which buoyed hopes that the area would gain front-row status for this year’s race. Woodland Park and Teller County was even previously considered as being on the short-list for 2016, according to Mike Perini, who led much of the local planning and publicity efforts for the 2014 Stage Five race.
But in recent months, the lack of news regarding the specific course the event will follow this year sparked some concerns.

The news will provide a downer for local cycling advocates, but could offer a relief to city officials. The city’s fiscal involvement in the race in 2014 turned into a mini-controversy, with mixed reviews over the event’s success. Unfortunately, the area got hit with rainy and cold weather during the scheduled day of the Stage Five kick-off in 2014. This led to smaller crowds than anticipated and raised questions over why the downtown was held hostage by the USA Pro Challenge preparation efforts.

However, a local committee led by Perini organized an entire week of festivities to coincide with the USA Pro Challenge.
Regardless of differing opinions, the race was regarded as a huge publicity success and one that attracted more than 1 million fans throughout the state. It also gained a niche as a unique opportunity for Woodland Park.

“We feel we delivered a good product for the Pro Challenge and for the community,” said City Manager David Buttery, in a previous interview.
Despite the net costs for the city, which nearly hit the $100,000 mark, city elected leaders at the time wanted to lobby for the area’s involvement as a big future player in the USA Pro Challenge.

Preliminary talks had surfaced about Woodland Park and sections outside the town serving as a trial run, such as what occurred with the Garden of Gods, or even to lobby to have a finish in Teller.

However, recent media reports have presented a dismal outlook for the race’s future. Although the event took on the glimpse of a Tour de France and captured major media coverage, in reality it became more of a state race, according to cycling experts.