Pro Challenge plans for next summer? |

Pro Challenge plans for next summer?

John LaConte
special to the daily

The crowds at Friday’s Steamboat Springs stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge were the biggest of the week -until the race hit Breckenridge on Saturday.

With crowd numbers approaching a cumulative 1 million around the state, the event that is expected to be the biggest in Colorado history.

As the 128 riders from 16 international teams embark on the final stage Sunday from Golden to Denver, many spectators are on a Rocky Mountain high after basking in the picturesque terrain and high-adrenaline excitement the race has provided.

Team Leopard Trek rider and Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck said he’s likely returning next year.

“This race has been really, really special,” Schleck, of Luxembourg, said after the race. “I’m really surprised. I didn’t expect that many supporters.”

International Cycling Union (UCI) President Pat McQuaid is just as pleased, but not as amazed with the fan turnout.

“I’ve been to Colorado before for the Coors (Classic) in ’83 and ’84, so I knew there was a lot of support from the public in Colorado for cycling,” McQuaid said Saturday after the race. “These fans haven’t had the opportunity to see pro-level cycling for the last 20 years, and here it comes back again and we can see on the roadside the massive, massive crowds that are out each day.”

McQuaid and UCI’s goal, like any big company, is to globalize. So bringing the best riders and best teams to the States for a top-level event fits in perfectly with their strategy. But McQuaid says while he was pleased with the event, there’s always room to improve.

“We’ll be looking at events like the Tour de France, looking at the great events and how they’re operated and organized,” he said.

But one thing you can’t improve upon, said USA Pro Cycling Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter, is the incredible backdrop provided by mother nature.

“I think we’re going to look back on this event and say let’s do it again,” said Hunter.

Schleck agreed. “I believe it’s a race that’s going to be a lot bigger in the future.”

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