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Micah Rice has high hopes for “the largest mountain bike race Colorado Springs has ever seen,” and what it will mean for the city and local cycling.

Pikes Peak APEX got the official go-ahead last October and kicks off Sept. 24, with four days of endurance events covering in-town trails, alpine single-track and back country stages, and a $50,000 prize purse.

As behind-the-scenes efforts and trail prep work ramp up, Rice aims to build a race that’ll bring cyclists back year after year — and bring the Springs international recognition as an endurance destination.

Rice spoke with the Business Journal about how the “bucket-list” event can put mountain biking in the spotlight and the city on the adventure sports map.

How did you get into cycling?

I got into it when I was in high school and ended up racing for the University of Georgia. I went to the national championships a couple of times and then kind of worked myself up the ranks and raced pro for a couple of years. I realized I wasn’t really good enough to make it as a pro, and so I started my own cycling team and ran a men’s professional cycling team and a women’s professional cycling team for about seven years. I did that in Georgia. I’d also been working on the event side of things. USA Cycling recruited me to come out to Colorado Springs and oversee the events department. I ran the National Events Department for USA Cycling for a little over eight years, overseeing all the national championship events around the United States, including mountain bike, road bike, track racing, BMX and all of those disciplines.

What is the Pikes Peak APEX race?

We always call it Pikes Peak APEX presented by RockShox — and I could talk to you about RockShox [being] the presenting sponsor, and they’re locally based here in Colorado Springs. But it’s a four-day, mountain bike challenge. It will be the biggest mountain bike event to ever be held on the Front Range of Colorado. There’s a $50,000 prize purse split evenly between men and women. The first day is a shorter day in Palmer Park — like a warm-up — and will be around an hour. The other three days are larger loops that are 40 to 50 miles each day. Those will be much more challenging and long days for most people.

How did you settle on the four-day total for Pikes Peak APEX?

We originally wanted to do even longer — we discussed doing six days. We modeled [it] after a couple of the larger events that we’ve seen around the world that we think are strong, bucket list cycling events. The Cape Epic in South Africa is probably the biggest one; it’s about eight days. But the Breck Epic in Breckenridge is six days and it’s a fantastic event. We wanted something that was longer that would bring people into town to see Colorado Springs for numerous days instead of just zip in, zip out. One of the original reasons the event was envisioned was because of a ride around Ring the Peak, which is a network of trails that circles Pikes Peak. The idea behind being able to race Ring the Peak was important to get this thing started. It’s not completed, there are some gaps missing in there. There are a number of organizations working to finish it — it’s about an 80-mile loop right now and for most people that’s too big to do in one day. There are people in the world who like that kind of thing, though. While the pros will show up because of the purse, our event is built around the amateur rider who thinks it’s going to be a great bucket list event. This is a chance for them to get out and push themselves. Also, they can see some of the most beautiful trails in Colorado.

How long has this race been in the works?

They started working on the idea of the bike race probably a year and a half ago. I was only brought in around 14 months ago. I’m part of the [Chamber & EDC’s Sports Economy Team]. When anything cycling-related comes across, I’m kind of the person in town that the city or Visit Colorado Springs or the Chamber & EDC might bounce that off. I moved here 10 years ago to oversee the events department for USA Cycling. When there was a group here interested in trying to create a large-scale mountain biking event, they brought me in. I’d volunteered some time on it for a couple of months and then in the end when it became evident it’d move forward, I was able to work that into a business for a company I work for called Sports Strategies, which is a Birmingham, Alabama-based company, which works with sports tours and consulting. We took over as event director for the Pikes Peak APEX and were able to move forward.

What impact do you expect to see for the economy?

We don’t expect it to be too many people the first year — I’d like to see 300-350 people in Year 1. But we can grow to having more competitors in a few years. The people who tend to come to this kind of event tend to have spending money … so there definitely is an aspect to that economic impact. Bringing in professionals and executive-level people who will come and check out Colorado Springs — who might not normally come out this way — we’re excited to bring that group of people in, too.

What was the day of the race announcement like?

We’d been working on it for 10 months on a serious scale. We had approached RockShox, which is a company here in town that employs about 150-160 people. A lot of the [research and development] is based in Colorado Springs and has been for many years. They wanted to jump on board and loved the idea of a large-scale event like this and we knew it was something that was missing. The trails in Colorado Springs are phenomenal, but there was no mountain bike event to show that off — not only for the local riders, but for people out of town. … We talked to USA Cycling and they knew this was an important piece to their hometown. We did the big announcement on Oct. 1 and we did it at USA Cycling headquarters … . It created a lot of excitement.

What was one of the challenges in setting this up?

The biggest question for us now is: How many people do we think will come? It’s a first-year event and nobody has ever done an event to this scale in Colorado Springs. We know it’s going to be a fantastic event because we know the trails here … Colorado Springs usually isn’t high on that [mountain biking] list and we want to change that. … We have a lot of people up and down the Front Range who are excited and the entries are coming in. My goal is to get over 300 and we have a hard cap at 500 for the first year. We hope to grow beyond that.

How do you reach those who you expect to come?

We were fortunate that we got some [Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax] money that was promised to us for the 2020 event, so that helped with the operations and funding for it. The other thing we were able to get was a Colorado Tourism Office grant … that allowed us to put more money into marketing and paid media. … We’ve done everything we can to get out in publications and announcements. We did a big locals night at the Trails End Taproom where we invited people to come talk about it, answer questions — we threw up some maps with some of the courses that we’re doing. …

We also have an ambassador program. We have a number of professional men and women who plan on coming, a number of Olympic hopefuls and some big-time pros who have a strong social media presence. … With a $50,000 prize purse, that’s the second largest in the nation for these pros. They’ve penned that weekend in as a big one to prepare for because they can get a decent paycheck out of it.

How do you prepare the trails?

We’re working closely with a number of different groups to make sure these trails will be in good shape before and after. The event is owned by the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance and they oversee this event and are kind of the financial sponsors of the event. … A percentage of all the income — whether that be grants or sponsorship or entry fees — all the money that comes in, a percentage of that will be set aside and go into a trail stewardship fund, and that’s going to drive what we do after the event to make sure we repair the trails we use. We could also create some new trails to use in future years, but also locals will have trails to ride throughout the year.

Our mission is to bring economic impact to Colorado Springs but also make the trail system in the Pikes Peak region better for residents and visitors. This fund is super important to us and a big focus of what we’re trying to do. It’s a nonprofit event; no one is taking the profits out of this. All the leftover money after the bills are paid is going straight back into the trail system.

We’re working with groups like Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates — they’re giving great suggestions on which trails to use. We’ll probably get some work groups together to prep some trails that might not be ready just yet. We’re working with Trails and Open Space Coalition; we’re working with the Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities, because we’ll come across some of their land up there on the Forest Service properties; we’re working closely with El Paso County Parks and Rec and Colorado Springs Parks and Rec. They’re going to help us make sure these areas are ready to use for the event and give us suggestions post-event on trails that we all use and love.