Luke Graham: Future of the Pro Cycling Challenge |

Luke Graham: Future of the Pro Cycling Challenge

Luke Graham

Luke Graham

— The USA Pro Cycling Challenge didn't seem like a big deal a year ago. At the time of its announcement by Gov. Bill Ritter and cycling icon Lance Armstrong, it was probably hard for a lot of non-hardcore fans to get excited.

And it was football season.

But as the event planning progressed, the race took on a whole new life.

Cadel Evans and Andy and Frank Schleck, the top three finishers in July's Tour de France, announced they would come. More top cyclists followed.

By the time race week ended Sunday, an astounding number of people either witnessed a stage in person or watched it on TV. It seemed as if it became accepted by hardcore cycling fans and cycling dummies.

Now that the inaugural event is over — and turned out to be a rousing success — it's time to ponder how viable its future is.

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A second year of the Pro Cycling Challenge already has been confirmed for Colorado, and judging from Shawn Hunter's comments, there's a reasonable chance Steamboat will be involved again. As co-chairman and CEO of the event, Hunter called Friday's Stage 4 finish on Lincoln Avenue "the most energetic finish I've seen."

He went on to claim that the Pro Cycling Challenge will only get bigger. But is that realistic? Will it carry the same buzz next year?

A lot can't be answered right now. It will, however, be interesting to see what happens. Events often struggle in their second years.

The Pro Cycling Challenge's success will likely hinge on several factors. Perhaps the biggest is which riders attend. This year's field of pros may have been one of the deepest to ever compete on American soil.

Can the race duplicate that next year? With the Tour de France and London Olympics on the summer schedule next year, it's hard not to imagine some sort of fall-off in top-level athlete attendance. Cadel Evans already has mentioned his desire to compete in the Olympics after the Tour de France in 2012.

It seemed throughout the week that riders really enjoyed themselves. That should at least help bring a strong field back to the Colorado Rockies.

The second big factor is the race route. The 2012 course won't be announced for awhile, but it will certainly change from this year's. Hunter confirmed that at least a couple new destinations would be part of the sophomore year of the Pro Cycling Challenge. But wouldn't a time trial up Rabbit Ears Pass be nice?

Regardless of where the race goes next year, expect to see some more variation. This year the race was decided by Thursday's time trial in Vail. Friday's finish in Steamboat and Saturday's finish in Breckenridge looked very similar. Hopefully next year the climbing stages will be more spread out, ensuring a little more drama as the race closes.

In the end, the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge introduced a whole new fan set to cycling. It's often said in football that a team's most noticeable improvement happens from its first game to its second. If that's the case for the Pro Cycling Challenge, Colorado may have something special on its hands.

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