A few weeks ago, the much anticipated USA Pro Bicycling Challenge raced through southwestern Colorado. Preparations were made in host towns and cities for crowds advertised to be in the thousands. Gridlock was certain. Hotel rooms booked from floor to ceiling would be the norm. A trail of gold would be left in the streets.
Turns out, the consensus from area reports is that the event did not meet expectations.
According to the Durango Herald, Durango, the first starting point of the week-long race, was expecting 20,000 people, but “the totals could not have been in the tens of thousands." Hotel rooms were empty, some restaurants were full and the town was spruced up with freshly painted parking stripes, hedges clipped, flags flown and roads resurfaced.
The Herald proclaimed to the thousands who did not show up, “we had a very good time.”
On to Telluride, the first day's end point of the race, where a local Ridgway resident told me he and his wife, who was a volunteer along the route, were unimpressed with the crowd compared to what was expected. Employees at the post office in Telluride told me that the town was going to be “shut down” for the race but were surprised that things were moving about so quickly after the start of that leg of the race.
In Montrose, which was a “start city,” the requirements for hotel rooms were not as significant, because cyclists were bussed from Telluride to Montrose for the start of the second day. According to the Montrose Daily Press, hotel owners did not see much traffic at all. Restaurant owners, according the Press report, were staffed and had staff on call in anticipation of large crowds. The crowds didn’t come.
“Normal traffic” was how one hotelier described the experience to the Press.
In Gunnison, where the leg from Montrose ended, the experience mirrored the path behind. One retailer told the Gunnison Country Times, “The bikers don’t shop. The people with them don’t shop.”
Even Ridgway was told to expect consumers to come through, traveling from Durango to Telluride the first day. "It didn't happen," a local restaurant owner told us.
Also common to all reports was what the USA Pro Challenge did mean to each stop along the way: exposure.
In the Gunnison Valley, according to the Times, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte spent about $110,000, and Gunnison spent $80,000 to cover the cost of the event. “We get a lot (of media exposure) for that $80,000,” City Manager Ken Coleman told the Times.
Montrose organizers spent nearly $80,000 as well. Scott Shine, executive director of the Montrose Downtown Development Authority, told the Press, “I believe it was worth it because of direct economic benefits, long-term exposure and just the experience of hosting such an event.”
In Durango, the Herald encouraged all that didn’t make the trip to come next time.
In the end, that’s the point of this race. While money may not be dropping alongside the road as bicyclists whiz by, it’s an opportunity to showcase your town or city, the beauty of the experience of coming to your area and to leave an open, warm invitation to come back and stay a while.
With hopes of having the race stop in our county in the future, we need to adjust our expectations and realize that the return may not be immediate. At least, that’s the new expectation this year’s host cities are banking on.
Speaking of parading through town, the Labor Day parade made its way down Hwy. 62 Monday, and you just have to love it. It was a great spectacle, and revelers lined the highway on either side to cheer and to dive for candy tossed their way.
This year’s parade had a political overtone to it. I counted five politicians vying for admiration among the crowd. It may have been six. Some of them I just didn’t recognize wearing a horse.
First, the pageantry of the rodeo was on display as pretty girls riding magnificent horses set the pace. Then came the county Democrats. Lots of them. Then came the county Independents – 3 of them in one Mustang convertible. Then came the county Republicans. Lots of them. A huge semi-truck with Ridgway Mountain Market’s finest tossing candy bars to the crowd (thank you for the one that landed at my feet) signaled the end of the politicians. Then came firetrucks. Lots of them. First Ouray’s volunteer fire department, then Ridgway’s, then maybe others. It was hard to tell as everyone was running from the water spray.
In all, the politicians and political parties far out-numbered pretty girls on horses. Hopefully, those numbers will reverse and improve next year when we’re not facing an election.
Alan Todd is publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. You may reach him at 970-325-2838 or