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Steamboat community impresses at the highest levels

USA Pro Cycling Challenge official calls crowd electrifying

— For months, Steamboat's local organizing committee of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge marketed Stages 4 and 5 as the only opportunity for cycling fans to see a stage finish and start in the same town.

On Friday, Pro Cycling Challenge CEO and Co-Chairman Shawn Hunter said Steamboat Springs more than lived up to the billing.

"Today was the most energetic stage I've ever been a part of in cycling — and maybe the biggest crowd ever," said Hunter, whose resume includes stints as a top executive with the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes, Deportivo Chivas and chief marketing officer and president of AEG Sports, among others.

"We think that was the biggest crowd of the week," he continued. "Steamboat shined on a big platform."

That platform included a live television broadcast of the race to 161 countries and territories, Hunter said.

Jim Schneider has served as chairman of Steamboat's local organizing committee for the Pro Cycling Challenge. A Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executive with plenty of experience hosting big events in Steamboat Springs — think Olympic trials and send-off celebrations — even Schneider was blown away by Friday's attendance and enthusiasm.

"It was electrifying," Schneider said. "Some of the riders were talking about the energy and how they could feel it coming into town. I think it was Levi Leipheimer who said the crowd was deafening."

Schneider and Hunter acknowledged that accurate crowd size estimates are difficult for non-ticketed events, but Schneider wasn't the only local to proclaim the Stage 4 finish as the biggest event to ever take place in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Hunter confirmed Friday that the Pro Cycling Challenge will be back for a second year, and it will again take place in Colorado. But does Steamboat have a shot at hosting a stage for a second straight year?

"Definitely you're going to see a couple of new locations," Hunter said, "but we look hard at the communities that really shined. … I think Steamboat has more than earned a place at the table.

"I can't thank Steamboat enough. There's a reason why this community was the only one that was awarded both a finish and a start. It's been a great week, but today really fired us up.

"I told Jim Schneider, 'You guys are rock stars.' It was an emotional day."