Colorado stage race: A bumpy organizational ride
The Denver Post
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado – The big-name teams are training. The buzz is building.
The inaugural Quiznos Pro Challenge – a long-awaited return of multi-stage road bike racing to Colorado – is planned for Aug. 22-28. And as the start approaches, local organizers in the 11 villages and cities hosting the six-stage, 600-mile race are laboring with race organizers to build the massive event from scratch.
Planning for the event, which has a potential economic impact of $38 million, has hit its share of bumps.
“It’s a first-year event, and we sort of expected things to be a little herky-jerky from an organizational standpoint,” Salida Mayor Chuck Rose said. “But it’s coming together. It’s very complicated, but we are sure, in the end, that this will be a positive for us.”
One bump in the road toward building the country’s second major stage race has been the contract that race organizer Georgia-based Medalist Sports first sent to host cities in November. That boilerplate contract – apparently used for the Medalist-organized Amgen Tour of California and the company’s recently canceled tours of Missouri and Georgia – detailed everything from indemnity, insurance and what kind of sponsors towns could enlist to other specifics like obligations and trademarks. But it didn’t fit for any of the host cities, which range in size from metro cities such as Denver and Colorado Springs to mountain hamlets such as Salida and Mount Crested Butte. Each town is negotiating a separate contract with Medalist.
So now attorneys with Quiznos and Medalist are revamping contracts while local organizers in host cities enlist their own sponsors, plan parties and events around the race and wrestle with logistics. Some of the smaller hosts, such as Mount Crested Butte, are forming limited liability companies to meet the race organizer’s contractual requirements.
“When you are pulling off a project of this size in a place that’s never done it before, it’s always going to be a bit troubling,” said Aaron Huckstep, a Crested Butte lawyer who serves on the local organizing committee planning the race’s first-stage mountaintop finish near the Crested Butte ski area.
“I think some of the communities have had concerns with respect to their insurance policies, but nothing is a deal breaker,” Huckstep said.
Indeed, the logistics are dizzying. As the race winds through remote mountain passes – like Stage 2’s monster push across the briefly unpaved Cottonwood Pass and isolated Independence Pass – preparing for live television and online coverage as well as on-the-ground spectators is difficult.
“It’s hard. Let me tell you, as a first-year event, it’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of volunteer time and a lot of learning. Just imagine how easy year two will be,” said Ellen Kramer, general manager of the race and vice president of communications for Quiznos.
Kramer said she’s got “big announcements” coming up in the next two weeks, which could detail the exact route as well as television and online coverage. (Versus aired tape-delay coverage of the 2009 Tour of Missouri and will air live coverage of the May Tour of California. Universal Sports has aired live coverage of U.S. cycling races online. No word from Versus on whether it will cover the Colorado race, and Kramer declined to comment on any pending television deal.)
Kramer said planning and organization are on schedule.
“We are certainly not behind, but it’s a long process dealing with attorneys,” she said. “These are typical issues that have come up.”
Kramer also said the recent layoffs at Quiznos – part of a new management team’s cutbacks aimed at reducing corporate costs for the Denver-based sandwich chain – will have no effect on the race.
While complex, the economic impact of the Colorado race could be large. Medalist reports from the Tour of Missouri, which was canceled in 2010 as the state’s tourism budget tightened, show the 2009 race attracted 500,000 spectators and netted $38.1 million in direct spending. Still, the state’s tourism board was forced to cut its $1.5 million in annual support as lawmakers whittled the state’s budget in the economic downtown. The loss of the Missouri race opened a slot in the International Cycling Union’s America Tour calendar, giving Colorado the chance to host a professionally sanctioned race that could lure the biggest names in cycling.
“It was a very, very tough decision. It wasn’t popular. We certainly received quite a bit of backlash,” said Marci Bennett, chairwoman of the Missouri Tourism Commission, which supported the race for three years but, as belt-cinching lawmakers trimmed the state’s tourism budget by half, ended its support in 2010. “It was a great event, but quite honestly, our state couldn’t afford it when we were cutting money for food stamps and welfare and education.”
Missouri tourism officials and race organizer Medalist were unable to secure a corporate sponsor to underwrite the Missouri race. Similar efforts to secure a primary sponsor failed to revive the Tour of Georgia, which was canceled in 2009 after six years. That seven-stage race, according to a 2008 study by Georgia Southern University, delivered $38.6 million in direct spending to local communities that hosted the race.
“It was so hard to find that right sponsor,” said Brent Hugh, vice chairman of the Tour of Missouri. “A company that’s locally oriented isn’t going to get much of a bang for its buck. This race got local, national and international attention. The right sponsor needs regional, national and international presence. You guys in Colorado are lucky to have found a company like Quiznos.”