Steamboat hits its mark with Pro Challenge | Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs has played host to stages of the USA Pro Challenge race, parts of two stages in 2011 and parts of two more in 2013.

But it’s never seen a stage quite like it will see in August, however.

Steamboat will host the entire first stage of this summer’s elite cycling stage race and the start of the second stage.

Organizers said Steamboat’s selection is the product of nearly 18 months of planning and that it’s going to lead to one bike-centric weekend, the likes of which the town may have never seen.

“We’re just ecstatic about being the overall start and a part of the tour again this year,” said Jim Schneider, one of the lead planners for Steamboat’s stage committee.

The stages for the 2015 USA Pro Challenge were announced on a broadcast on Denver’s KUSA 9News morning show Thursday morning, live from a dark and cold Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat.

A circuit race starting and finishing in downtown Steamboat will open the seven stage event Aug. 17. Racers will ride from Steamboat to Arapahoe Basin on Aug. 18 for the second stage.

The third stage will connect Copper Mountain with Aspen and the fourth Aspen with Breckenridge. The fifth will be time trial in Breckenridge. The sixth stage is yet to be determined and will be chosen by a fan vote at www.usaprochallenge.com.

Finally, the seventh will be a ride between Golden and Denver.

It’s Steamboat’s third year in the race’s five-year history playing host to a stage. Aspen has been included in each of the five routes and hosted the event’s start for the past two summers.

Breckenridge has had a stage each of the five years, though this will be its first with a time trial.

Denver also has been involved all five years, serving as the race’s finish. Golden is back for its third stage.

Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain are in the mix for the first time while Vail was left out for the first time, pending the results of the online vote.

“It’s never been better,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the event. “I can’t wait for this year. This will be our most exciting race for athlete and our most fan friendly race from a spectator standpoint.”

Making it happen

Kara Stoller, director of marketing with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the idea of starting in Steamboat started with Hunter.

Organizers in Steamboat began their pursuit of a 2015 stage soon after the circus rolled out of town in August 2013. The event has been atlernating between northerly and southerly routes, meaning a 2014 stage was unlikely, but Schneider and Stoller, who helped head up Steamboat’s efforts, invited Hunter to town to talk about possibilities.

Over dinner and a few beers, they decided Bike Town USA could be the perfect place to start the race.

“Every year we’re in conversation with them about future years, and at the end of 2013, Shawn wanted to meet with us and we wanted to meet with him,” Stoller said. “We shared that we always wanted to increase our presence and that we were vying for a weekend date, just to be able to build on it more than you can mid-week. We were thrilled they were also interested in doing that.”

The result will be a weekend-long bike bash in Steamboat Springs.

The race will kick off on a Monday, so the race will have top billing locally that day and night. The weekend leading into the start could have plenty of activity, as well.

A Steamboat contingent went to Aspen, last year’s overall start, to get a taste of what they were asking for.

“After watching that, we had a great sense of comfort we could do this and we could do it well,” said Schneider, a vice president at Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. “We will have an entire weekend of activities. We will have a festival Saturday and Sunday and Monday before the start. They’ll be here for several days, if not a week before.

“It may take a little more financial commitment to get the start, but it’s about the city of Steamboat Springs coming together.”

Betting on bikes

Just what that increased level of financial commitment meant wasn’t entirely clear Thursday. The city of Steamboat Springs increased its “payment” to the race from $35,000 it spent in 2013 to $50,000 on the condition it landed the overall start.

Money from the Chamber’s $660,000 summer marketing budget also will go to support the race, which must find a way to put up the many competitors and crew members during the days before the race.

“It’s certainly a communitywide commitment,” Stoller said. “We have the participation of the city, which is huge, the Chamber, the ski area and many, many businesses and volunteers in town, who put in countless hours. This year it will be even bigger because we have the overall start.

“We are really excited to bring the community together as well as bring some tourism to town. Beyond that, it’s amazing to see Steamboat on television and broadcast around the world. That’s something we can’t put a dollar on.”

The rest of the details for the event won’t be announced until the spring. Schneider said the race will start and end downtown for the first stage, but it’s not known whether riders will make several loops of a small course or one loop of a longer one. Gore Gruel, anyone?

The actual riders who will participate — in years past, much of the Tour de France podium and most of the top American riders — won’t be announced until a few weeks before the race.

By then, the race and all that comes with it should be looming large in Steamboat’s eyes.

Steamboat hits its mark with Pro Challenge | Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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