VAIL — On Aug. 23, thousands of fans will line the streets of Vail Village and up Vail Pass to cheer on some of the world’s fastest cyclists as they fight the effects of altitude and fatigue during the Vail Time Trial.
To bring the race back to Vail (it was part of the USA Pro Challenge in 2011 and 2013, but not 2012), organizing committee the Vail Valley Foundation and many town entities made a bid in an extremely competitive process, contributing funds, promising lodging and, of course, playing host. They’ll also tell you that the effort and cost are worth it, bringing everything from dollars to prestige to the area.
“Hosting events like the Pro Challenge is really interwoven into the DNA of this community and always has been,” said John Dakin, of the Vail Valley Foundation. “It’s one of the things that hopefully sets Vail apart from other areas. You can come see the world’s best racers, dancers — whatever it is. A lot of people around the world see it as special place.”
A history of cycling
In fact, some would say that as the Vail area has come of age, so has cycling in Colorado. It won’t be the first time nor the second that the town and locals will have pulled all the stops for such a race. The storied course was originally part of the Coors Classic, a professional stage race that debuted in 1980 and brought the top Europeans to American terrain.
“It was really (the Coors Classic) that brought professional cycling to a new level in this country. We had a smattering of national caliber races here, and it wasn’t until the ’80s that we got bigger teams coming here on a regular basis,” said Michael Carter, a retired professional cyclist and a current team liaison for the Pro Challenge.
He said he has fond memories of Vail’s races (the town also used to host a pro criterium race in Vail Village), and he said that the return of the time trial also made an impression on the current European pros.
“I’ve ridden the Giro (di Italia) and the Vuelta (de Espana,) and I have never seen that many people at a bike race, ever,” said Carter of the first year of the Pro Cycling Challenge. “When you go up to Vail, that rivals any Tour de France mountain stage, and I can tell you — those guys love it.”
This year should be no different. The Vail Valley Foundation estimated that the 2011 and 2013 time trials drew 25,000 to 30,000 people, and this year could bring even more since the stage falls on a Saturday.
Vail’s races also paved the way for women’s cycling. In the ’80s, it hosted the biggest pro-amateur women’s race in the country, drawing female Olympic cyclists and legendary greats such as Jeannie Longo and Karen Carpenter.
Vail also once hosted the mountain bike downhill world championships and various mountain bike World Cup events. The exposure directly paved the way for a boom in the popularity of mountain biking in the area and the development of the area’s trails, said Dakin.
Bikes for the masses
These elite events have also helped make cycling one of the most popular — and money-making — sports in Colorado.
Chandler Smith, director of Ride the Rockies, a popular six-to-seven day bike tour of Colorado, said he’s seen increased interest in the ride since the Pro Cycling Challenge came to Colorado. Ride events have exploded over the past decade, drawing educated, higher-income riders — the exact demographic many communities want to draw.
“Colorado has really become a mecca for the business of cycling,” said Smith. “You can put a price tag on it, but there are so many intangibles, too. The pro race is a perfect billboard for Colorado. It’s seven days of showcasing Colorado. What happens is that people see that, and they want to experience it, too.”
Bikes mean business
Undoubtedly, that all translates to big business.
Smith, of Ride the Rockies, said that bike manufacturing, retail, tourism and bike events contribute more than $1 billion to Colorado’s economy. When events like Ride the Rockies, the Triple Bypass and others pass through the valley, it means both free advertising and business for hotels and restaurants.
“In a 24-hour period of Ride the Rockies, which involves 3,000 people, we’ll drop about $250,000 of revenue into a community through lodging and restaurants,” said Smith.
For the Pro Cycling Challenge, last year’s estimates reported that the entire race brought $100 million in revenue to the state. Then there’s the media impressions. In the era of the Coors Classic, there might have been some media coverage, but it didn’t compare to today’s live streaming, extended television broadcast and various social media impressions.
“For Vail, it’s tremendous media exposure. We get two hours live on NBC — that’s 150 million people seeing bike racing in Vail,” said Dakin. “It’s shown around the world, and the tour estimates that worldwide media impressions alone are somewhere around 3 billion. It’s huge exposure for the summer lifestyle in Vail.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.