Fort Collins will not host a stage of the USA Pro Challenge in 2014 as portions of Larimer County affected by September's flooding rebuild. A fan holds a cut out of Peter Sagan at the finish line of the sixth stage of the USA Pro Challenge in Old Town Aug. 24. V. Richard Haro/Coloradoan library
FORT COLLINS - Fort Collins will not host a stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge as portions of Larimer County rebuild following September's devastating floods.
Instead, the race's Local Organizing Committee will focus its efforts on preparing a bid for Larimer County to host a stage of the race in 2015.
"We're aligned to take the next year off," said Eric Thompson co-chairman of the LOC. "We're all aware of and understand the resources and manpower needed to pull off an event like this. What we believe is right for the community is to focus on rebuilding after the flood."
Thompson said the committee had planned another bid to host a Pro Challenge stage in 2014, but the floods in September quickly changed that decision. Historic rainfall raised the Big Thompson River, which washed out large chunks of U.S. Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon below Estes Park. Contractors are still working on U.S. 34 from Estes Park to Loveland, in hopes of reopening the highway by Dec. 1.
The canyon was a vital segment of this year's Pro Challenge Stage 6 route, which made its debut in Northern Colorado on Aug. 24. Stage 6 started at The Ranch in Loveland, and featured rolling sprints in Windsor and Loveland before climbing the Big Thompson Canyon to Glen Haven and descending into Estes Park. Hundreds of rowdy cycling fans lined the switchback canyon roads as the professional cyclists tackled the stage's only King of the Mountains climb up Glen Haven.
"The crowds were incredible. Through every pasture community to where the entire town comes out, to downtown Fort Collins, the race was clearly popular with people," Pro Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter said in a meeting Thursday with Thompson and fellow co-chairman Bob Herrfeldt, director of The Ranch. "The race clearly wants to come back to Northern Colorado, and for now, the focus should be on recovery, but we're really driven to make 2015 another big partnership in these communities."
An estimated 200,000 to 250,0000 people watched Stage 6 of the race in person, Hunter said, making Aug. 24 one of the top "two or three" days in the three-year history of the multiple-stage race. The seven-day race started in Aspen and finished in Denver, drawing an estimated 1.1 million to 1.2 million people, Hunter said, and making the USA Pro Challenge the largest spectator cycling event in the United States.
Hunter said interest has been high from communities around the state to host a stage for the 2014 race. He could not confirm whether Boulder would be part of the race next year as the city also recovers from the flooding.
"We want to be sensitive to what happened in September," he said. "Our communities are much more important, and getting healthy and recovered is at the top of the list right now."
A couple factors work in Larimer County's favor to again land a stage in the USA Pro Challenge, Hunter said. First, is the collaboration and leadership of the LOC between the towns of Fort Collins, Loveland, Windsor and Estes Park. The joint bid from the nearby communities could provide a blueprint for other Colorado cities and towns to collaborate and present their own bid for future editions of the race.
"A new standard was created here," Hunter said. "On a similar scale, the partnership with CSU had a great impact for us, and for them."
The second factor is the landscape of Larimer County. Long before cyclists reached the Stage 6 finish in Old Town Fort Collins, Thompson and Herrfeldt were already in discussions with local cyclists about other potential routes throughout Northern Colorado. The Poudre Canyon, the plains east of Fort Collins, different loops around Estes Park and Rist Canyon could be possibilities for a new route. Hunter said this year's route received "high marks" from the pro cyclists.
Though Fort Collins barely saw a bump of immediate financial impact from the race's finish in Old Town, race organizers argue the national and world exposure will pay off long-term.
"Our goal for the race all along was about a long-term strategy of putting this region on a world-wide stage, having people see us at our best, whether that's in person or on TV," Thompson said. "It was never about tax revenue. In terms of our goal, mission accomplished."
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