VAIL — With the announcement Friday that Tour de France champion Chris Froome will come to Colorado to compete in the USA Pro Challenge, the Centennial State is currently abuzz with cycling fever.
Froome and the rest of the sport’s top tier will compete in the upcoming third annual event, and crowds are preparing trips to the Vail Valley, which will see two of the race’s seven stages.
Among those stages is the return of the Vail Time Trial, which was scrapped from the docket last year but returns Aug. 23 for the fifth stage in the weeklong event.
“Vail has such a rich history with cycling, and the time trial is an iconic day from the history of the Zinger to the Coors Classic and hopefully now the Pro Challenge,” Hunter said. “We always want to incorporate Vail in the race every year, and most likely the Time Trial every year or every other year.”
Last year, with the Vail Time Trial missing, a Beaver Creek component was added to the challenge — an intense, 2-kilometer climb to the finish which Hunter says added an exciting element.
“Beaver Creek was awesome last year with the uphill finish,” said Hunter. “And this year’s Queen Stage from Steamboat to Beaver Creek is something we’re excited about, it’s going to be a very challenging for the riders, should be great for the fans, there should be some big crowds, not only at the finish but along the way and incorporating Bachelor’s Gulch should make it fun as well.”
The day-four Queen stage takes place Aug. 22, and with a finish in Beaver Creek followed by the Vail stage on Aug. 23, Aug. 22 should be among the busiest days of the summer in the Vail Valley.
The Four Seasons resort in Vail was already at nearly 80 percent capacity for Aug. 22, while Aug. 23 bookings were significantly less at 72 percent. Ordinarily, a Thursday seeing more bookings than a Friday would be an anomaly in the industry, but with the stage four-five combination attracting visitors for Thursday night, it comes as no surprise to race organizers
Among those visitors is Bill Powers of Buena Vista, who drives to various locations like Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge to check out the races.
“And the funny thing is, I myself am not a cyclist,” he said. “I just enjoy watching the best in the world compete. I will sit in a hotel and listen to all the people speaking all the different languages, and that really excites me. I just love the international feel, the colors, the whole vibe.”
Local cycling fan Jim Popeck says seeing the cyclists with your own eyes is enough to make anyone into a fan, cyclists or not.
“When I lived back east I’d read Powder Magazine, and then I moved out here and I didn’t have to read it because I lived it,” he said. “A race like this comes and people live it ... people come from all over the country and all over the world for this race.”
Popeck owns a cycling shop in Minturn, Mountain Pedaler, and says the challenge invigorates the business community as well as the fans.
“My business, from before the cycling challenge to after, goes up,” he said. “People that might not have ever seen the Tour de France, they see this and they see other people on bikes and they said ‘I could do that.’ And they come in and say ‘I was watching the race, I’m thinking about exercising, what do you have in my price range?’”
The Vail Valley Foundation says a business boost is among what they look at in trying to attract the event, but the exposure it brings to our communities is probably the most attractive element of the USA Pro Challenge.
“There’s a two-hour live show that’s on NBC sports, and is broadcast in 175 official countries, the exposure along is a very compelling reason to bring an event like this,” said Adam Lueck, senior manager of operations with the Vail Valley Foundation.
Lueck says hotels, restaurants and bars receive a bump along the way, but its hard to measure the side business that results as an effect of the challenge’s presence.
Among the side-impact events which supplement the challenge are unique opportunities like the one Popeck is planning, which will bring George Hincapie, who assisted Lance Armstrong in all seven of his Tour de France victories, to Minturn for a ride with members of the public.
“He’ll be here for a meet and greet on the Wednesday before the race, where people can ask him questions and see him ride,” Popeck said.
Follow the USA Pro Challenge at usaprochallenge.com.
Staff Writer John LaConte can be reached at 970-748-2988 or firstname.lastname@example.org