USA Pro Challenge helps summer business

Crowds line the start area of the USA Pro Challenge course two years ago in Vail Village. This year, organizers expect thousands of people to line the routes today into Beaver Creek and Friday in Vail.
Daily file photo |

EAGLE COUNTY — The USA Pro Challenge bike races are about competition. But the races are also good business for communities.

This year’s peloton will spend a matter of minutes zipping through Edwards on the way to Bachelor Gulch and Beaver Creek Village, but businesses there are ready for spectators. This year’s racers will speed just yards away from the front door of Moontime Cyclery, and shop owner Frank Mitchell is ready.

“We’re going to have a tent set up along the highway, and we’ve been inviting customers to join us,” Mitchell said.

Cycle shops, like other businesses that cater to things people are passionate about, often serve as gathering places for the faithful. Mitchell said there’s a palpable buzz from his regular customers about the races. Events that bring top riders to the valley “get people motivated,” Mitchell said.

Some of those people might also hit the bike shops looking for items that might let them speed up their times on the climbs the pros seem to tackle with such ease.

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Better than last year

It’s more than just hard-core cyclists expected to watch the race, of course. Edwards restaurant Eat!Drink! is hosting an afternoon-long party for the race, with food and drink specials and live music. Restaurant owner Pollyanna Forster said she’s expecting between 100 and 150 people for at least part of the afternoon, a big improvement over the Avon-to-Steamboat stage in 2011.

That stage left Avon in the morning, and Forster said Eat!Drink! held a similar party, only with mimosas instead of beer and wine. Not quite 50 people showed up, she said.

This year may be different, since the racers will fly through Edwards in the afternoon. People may be more likely to take off work for the event, she said.

Even the hotel in Edwards, the Riverwalk Inn and Suites, is expecting a decent crowd. Hotel general manager Kim Newbury said the hotel is more full than it would normally be on a weeknight after school had started through most of the state.

Vail hotels mostly full

While Thursday’s stage ends in Beaver Creek, Friday’s race is focused only on Vail, with a time trial starting in Solaris and ending up Vail Pass. A couple hotels near the starting gate reported they’re mostly full for Friday and Saturday nights.

Both The Sebastian and the Four Seasons were both more than 80 percent booked as of Wednesday afternoon. Jim Guttau, the public relations manager for the Four Seasons, said that hotel had been fielding calls from Front Range residents looking for last-minute lodging.

At the Sebastian, general manager Lance Thompson said the hotel is hosting a combination of tourists, race fans and a couple of weddings over the weekend. He added that given the foot traffic sure to pack Meadow Drive, he expects the hotel bar to bustle through much of the day Friday. The Four Seasons hopes to pick up some of its own post-race bustle with Friday evening events.

Vail Bike Tech’s regulars are mountain bikers for the most part, but that Lionshead shop has rented out a few cycles and trailers for Friday’s time trial.

Store manager Geoffrey Ryan said the shop has seen an increase in customers over the past few days. And while there are mountain bikers who don’t much usually care about road biking, Ryan said there’s been a buzz in his shop, too.

“Across the board everybody’s pretty excited,” Ryan said. And, he said, he’s starting to see more people from outside Colorado coming for the races.

“We saw a little bump two years ago,” Ryan said of the USA Pro Challenge’s initial year — and the last time the tour hit Vail property. “But the name’s out there now. It was mostly Colorado or regional people two years ago — now we’re seeing more national business.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and

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