VAIL — This may be the penultimate stage of the USA Pro Challenge cycling tour, but today is the Super Bowl for Tara Picklo.
Picklo and her husband, Nate, own Yeti’s Grind, the coffee shop at Solaris Plaza in Vail Village, the start site for the Pro Challenge’s time trial up Vail Pass. In past years, the plaza has been thronged with cycling fans. Since this year’s event is on a Saturday, even bigger crowds are expected. Just how big is anyone’s guess.
Picklo said she’s heard indications that as many as 16,000 people may flock to the course. Sybill Navas, special events coordinator for the town of Vail, said as many as 25,000 people may attend.
Whatever the final number, one thing is certain — Vail Village is going to be busy.
Picklo said “just about everyone” who works at the Vail location will be on duty today, and the store has laid in extra supplies of everything from coffee to stir sticks.
“I just brought another load up in the car yesterday,” she said.
Coffee shops and cycling are a good match, but retailers are also looking forward to attracting some business.
Bobby L’Heureux manages the Vail location of the lululemon clothing company. The showroom is in the village, along Gore Creek Plaza, but L’Heureux said he doesn’t really expect a lot of people to wander into the shop. That’s why the store will have a presence at Yeti’s and in a retail area near the starting gate.
Since lululemon sells activewear, L’Heureux said the company has had a presence at other Pro Challenge stages.
“But we’ll have the largest party here,” he said, including a “lululemonade” stand on the plaza.
Other retail companies are also getting out and about. Alison Wadey, director of the Vail Chamber & Business Association, said Venture Sports and the Sebastian Hotel linked up to provide demonstration rides on a high-end bicycle at a Friday afternoon event.
“People are getting creative,” Wadey said. “It’s good to see.”
While food and beverage sales are likely to be stronger than retail action, Wadey said that’s just part of the balance Vail’s events present.
“Events like this one are good for food and beverage, and other events are better for retail,” she said.
While cash registers may ring differently at different businesses, hotels are likely to have a strong weekend. In fact, it’s hard to get a room in Vail Village tonight and not just because of the Pro Challenge. Lance Thompson, general manager of the Sebastian Hotel, said a large wedding had already taken up most of the rooms there. Race fans have taken virtually all of the rest.
“We literally have one or two rooms left, and we’ve been getting a lot of calls,” Thompson said. Wadey said the phone at her office had also been ringing steadily for the past few days.
“We’re also getting inquiries from people who are just passing through this weekend,” she said.
Besides the race, Thompson said there are several weddings scheduled in Vail this weekend. Those events, often scheduled months in advance, already filled up a big part of the hotel rooms in Vail.
No matter what people are doing, Thompson said having big events in the village is good for everyone.
“Anything within the village exposes people to the best of what we have,” Thompson said. “And, if you can stay here, you can walk right out the door to get to it, then walk back through to get out of it.”
While sales receipts and hotel reservations are one measure of economic activity, there could be an even bigger economic effect down the road.
In an email, Navas wrote that the “direct benefit is primarily from the international and media exposure” events like the Pro Challenge provide.
Wadey agreed, but added that many pro cycling fans seem to be in the economic group Vail likes to welcome. She noted that a tour company offered guests rides on a private jet to every stage of this year’s Pro Challenge.
But the importance of TV coverage is hard to overstate.
Wadey said she’d noticed the Pro Challenge’s website is encouraging people to wear costumes to the races.
“It’ll be interesting to see what characters come out,” she said. “And those are the scenes that end up on ‘Good Morning America.’”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.
“Anything within the village exposes people to the best of what we have.”
General manager of Sebastian Hotel