Labor Day cycling event at key stage |

Labor Day cycling event at key stage

Stephen Lloyd Wood/Daily Staff Writer

Promoters of what would be called the Rocky Mountain Classic last week told Vail leaders – who’ve committed as much as $205,000 to marketing the event – that, even though no title sponsors have been signed to fund it, they remain optimistic the necessary deals will be made soon.

“We’ve worked hard to bring this event to fruition,” Dave Chauner, president and chief executive officer of Threshold Sports LLC, a Pennsylvania-based company that specializes in organizing major cycling events, told the Town Council. “Success is just around the corner.”

Three days of cycling

The Rocky Mountain Classic is already listed on the 2004 racing calendar of the Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body of bicycle racing worldwide. Promoters says the event would include:

– Sept. 3 – a “grand fondo,” or “big ride”: a citizen’s tour of up to 2,000 riders beginning at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver and ending in Vail Village.

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– Sept. 4 – a 110-mile road race for professionals and possibly other categories on a route throughout the Vail Valley, with most of the race taking place in the Vail Village.

– Labor Day, Sept. 5 – a criterium, or circuit race, for professionals and possibly other categories in Vail, similar to stages of the Coors Classic, the last major competitive road cycling event to visit the Vail Valley.

Promoters say the Vail-based event – part of a larger series of events called the Pro Cycling Tour, with similar, existing races in Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco that “attract crowds of up 300,000 people” – would bring more than 350 of the world’s best cyclists to town.

Seed money

Last year, after a presentation by Rick Chastain of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau – who since has started his own local sports promotion company, Legacy Sports – the Vail Town Council ponied up $50,000 as seed money to pay for marketing the Rocky Mountain Classic, according to town records. The Vail Marketing District contributed another $30,000. Another $75,000 and $30,000, respectively, have been earmarked this year.

Chastain said local “in-kind sponsors” – such as Eagle County, Vail Resorts, the Vail Recreation District, Beaver Creek Resort Company and Colorado Mountain Express – have been lined up, and the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa has agreed to be the official “host hotel” for up to 900 room-nights. Some secondary sponsors, including Allsport, Speedplay and Mavic, have been secured, as well as a radio contract with the Clear Channel network. And the Denver Post has agreed to be the “official newspaper.”

“Sounds like they’re making progress,” said Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler.

“Verbal agreements’

Title sponsorships, however, remain elusive. Chastain said in December he hoped to have contracts signed by January. According to information he supplied last week, prospective title sponsors have included companies that sell: imported automobiles; beer; liquor; cable television; energy bars; air travel; carbonated beverages; bottles water; mutual funds; and insurance.

“We’re working with 10 sponsors in the Denver area, and we have some verbal agreements,” Lee Caruthers, a Denver-based marketer working with Threshold Sports, told the Town Council.

Securing television coverage also has been part of the marketing strategy, and Chauner said he is working with Comcast and the Outdoor Life Network “to produce a cable program.” Efforts to court network television, such as ABC and CBS, have proven problematic.

“I’m a little surprised by the lack of interest by Denver TV,” said Vail Town Councilman Dick Cleveland.

“With presidential elections in November, so much of the (advertising) inventory is used by political campaigns,” Chauner explained. “And it’s a difficult time with fall sweeps. The networks are pushing everything they can for fall ratings.”

Critical stage

Although everyone involved with bringing the Rocky Mountain Classic to Vail this year appears to remain optimistic, the effort to do so has reached a critical stage. After all, the professional cycling season in Europe is already underway, and top riders and their teams typically have their schedule of appearances finalized by mid-spring.

The Vail race’s spot on the calendar several weeks after cycling’s biggest event, the Tour de France in July, also presents major obstacles for teams with designs on other major European events, such as the Olympics in late-August, the Tour of Spain in September, the World Championships in October and several World Cup events. If the Vail race indeed does happen, in all likelihood cycling’s big professional teams would field second-string squads.

Chastain, as early as 2002, said he hoped to attract Tour de France champion and American cycling hero Lance Armstrong of the U.S. Postal Service team to the Rocky Mountain Classic, but talk of that slowly subsided. After all, the Texan, who specializes in winning the Tour de France, is known for practically hanging up his bike after the Tour every year.

Attracting Armstrong in 2004 has an added twist, too: Having tied the record of winning the French tour five times, he is going for a record sixth victory this year, and whether he wins or not he and his team may be an extremely valuable commodity on the post-Tour exhibition circuit. And if he sets his sights on an Olympic medal, his presence in Vail could be highly unlikely.

Still, Chauner said last week during the public meeting the Postal Service team “very likely” would field a team – and he’s not ruling out the possibility Armstrong would make an appearance.

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