USA Pro Challenge Hit Dead-End Route – Rick Langenberg

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The big professional cycling invasion in Woodland Park and Teller County and much of the Pike Peak region has officially ended.

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 brief moments of international exposure.

One of the more ambitious professional cycling events across Colorado, with comparisons drawn with the Tour de France, has hit the brakes to the dismay of many fans and area residents. Last week, Shawn Hunter, the main driving force behind the week-long USA Pro Challenge, announced that the event won’t occur in 2017 and hinted that the popular race that attracted more than one million viewers has hit a dead end.

“We are going to continue exploring opportunities in the sport and certainly opportunities here in Colorado when they arise,” said Hunter, in an article in the Denver Post.

The news won’t surprise local leaders and race organizers. Last winter, USA Pro Challenge leaders announced that the 2016 event wouldn’t occur, ending a six-year consecutive streak

According to cycling experts, funding difficulties emerged as the main hurdle. Pro cycling has suffered from huge television production costs, but limited revenue without ticket sales. Hunter had strived to secure a national sponsor and big money financer to carry on the event. He wanted to put it on the same scale as the Tour of California race or even the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, which kicked off last week.

The original funders of the event, Richard and Rick Schaden, who are father and son, lost about $20 million over a five year period. Hunter was able to reduce these loses considerably in 2015, but not enough to garner major financing for the event.

The loss of the USA Pro Challenge will be missed in the Pikes Peak area, known as a cycling hub. In fact, for two years, the event had close ties with Woodland Park. The city 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. Some shop owners complained about access to their stores during a prime time in the summer and the lack of parking.

“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.

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 also 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 the next USA Challenge race. Woodland Park and Teller County was even previously considered as being on the short-list for the next competition, according to Mike Perini, who led much of the local planning and publicity efforts for the 2014 Stage Five race.

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.

But in early 2016, the lack of news regarding the next race, prompted much speculation regarding the future of the USA Pro Challenge. This skepticism was confirmed with last week’s announcement.