As news headlines go, the recent announcement that the USA Pro Challenge cycling tour would not take place in 2016 came as somewhat of a surprise.
The general assumption was the event would return this summer for its sixth run — and Colorado Springs would once again play a prominent role as one of the venues, as was the case for three of the Pro Challenge’s five tours.
Already, local organizers were putting together the details for Colorado Springs’ involvement, even though nothing had been finalized. Actually, we hear the local cycling community had been anxiously waiting to hear those specifics, along with the rest of the Pro Challenge’s 2016 itinerary, until the sudden news release saying the entire event was canceled.
That release tried to leave open the possibility that the Pro Challenge might return in 2017, but Colorado Springs shouldn’t bank on that. More likely, the cycling tour will die a quiet, unfortunate death, never to return in that form.
What went wrong? In the simplest terms, the race didn’t make money. The original bankrollers were willing to absorb big losses at the start (a reported $15 million in the first year alone), hoping the bottom line would turn from red to black after five years. But in its fifth year during 2015, the Pro Challenge still came up short by a reported $2 million or so.
We could dissect other factors that surely came into play. Perhaps bouncing around to different cities and routes each year made some sense, exposing the race to different audiences, but it also wasn’t the best way to achieve continuity and stability. Not having a women’s division until last year hurt, and being unable to charge admission surely hindered the revenue side.
There were serious doubts, especially the first few years, about the legitimacy of crowd estimates, which seemed quite inflated.
Nobody could blame Colorado Springs for the Pro Challenge’s troubles. Our entire region and its cycling enthusiasts fully embraced the event and local organizers, as well as countless volunteers, put forth an admirable effort as venue hosts in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
It stung when that loyalty wasn’t always reciprocated, but local leaders tried to stay positive, even saying it was better to have the race here every other year. Now that the Pro Challenge is gone, though, let’s not treat it as a nightmare or even a bad day. Instead, Colorado Springs should feel positive, for several reasons.
One, at least our city has proven itself worthy of providing the setting for top-caliber cycling events, with corporate sponsors, energetic leaders and volunteers willing to help make it happen. Perhaps it’s time to consider pursuing other national or international cycling attractions, even possibly luring back the World Cycling Championships. (Hard to believe, but it’s been 30 years since that global event was here in 1986.)
Two, we’d suggest that the Pikes Peak region’s cycling community channel its focus and ambitions in a new direction, developing our own annual cycling extravaganza open to all competitive levels, racing around and through our scenic landmarks while also utilizing the 7-Eleven Velodrome for track events.
It might not provide as much global exposure as the USA Pro Challenge did, but it could attract cyclists of all kinds to the area. A permanent cycling event could be far more beneficial to developing the sport here than just a tour that passes through for a single day every two years. So, why not?