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USA Pro Cycling Challenge could leave lasting impact in Steamboat

Crowds line the steets of Livermore

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A public information meeting about the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday in Centennial Hall, 124 10th St. The meeting will outline the various impacts on the community when the bike race comes to town Aug. 26 and 27. For more information, visit http://www.steamboatprocycling.com.

— Roll in on a bike into Livermore, a bustling and affluent town on the eastern edge of California's San Francisco Bay Area, and it might be a bit reminiscent of a trip to France.

Some of the oldest and finest wine vineyards lie in Livermore, a town of just more than 80,000. The vineyards, most of which have roots to the 1840s, give way to a vibrant downtown full of art, character and the makings of a "look where I'm at" postcard.

The people follow suit. Much like Steamboat Springs, it's a fit community whose residents crave an outdoor lifestyle and have embraced the sport of cycling.

The Amgen Tour of California, one of the biggest and most popular professional road stages races in the U.S., has breezed through Livermore before, attracting thousands of spectators who line the streets for a chance to see the pro cyclists fly by.

For the first time this year, Livermore was a host stage for the Tour of California.

"Oh yes, the first year you're doing something there is a steep learning curve," said Donna Pontau, a senior management analyst in the city manager's office for the city of Livermore and co-chairwoman for the local organizing committee that brought the stage to Livermore.

But was the hustle and logistics of hosting a stage worth it, even if riders left town at 11:45 a.m. on their way to San Jose?

"The benefit is not just economic value," said Pontau, who estimated 10,000 people came in for the start despite overcast skies and rain. "We had all the major Bay Area news vans on race day. There was NBC and FOX. There were helicopters. The flash mob that appeared downtown was viral on YouTube in 15 minutes. You get so much media attention."

Race comes to Steamboat

With the USA Pro Cycling Challenge set to make its debut on Colorado soil in less than two weeks, the experiences of other stateside pro races like the Tour of California and the Tour of Utah provide a link to what can be expected here in Steamboat.

But even then, Steamboat is fairly unique as a host city. Among the three U.S. pro stage races, Steamboat is one of the only cities to host both a stage finish and a stage start.

The Tour of Utah is different in that all the stages are central to Salt Lake City. The Tour of California has a time trial that begins and ends in Solvang, Calif.

"It's hard to quantify the dollars," said Brad Vidro, the city manager of Solvang, which has hosted the time trial for four years. "But we get national and international recognition that we wouldn't normally get."

There is little doubt people will flock here. Vail and Avon, the two USA Pro Cycling Challenge stops before Steamboat, are estimating as many as 20,000 visitors.

Steamboat's slightly more remote location has local organizing committee chairman Jim Schneider expecting 8,000 to 10,000 people in town for the race.

"People will be down there milling through all those businesses that day," Schneider said. "Certainly we're hoping to fill a lot of lodging rooms. But those are the short-term benefits. The long-term benefits are people are going to see Steamboat and hopefully come back for a future date."

And that might be the biggest boon provided by the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. With a star-studded field of riders, the cities and towns along the race route will get major play locally, nationally and internationally.

Versus will air coverage of the race daily, and NBC will air the final stage on Sunday, Aug. 28.

Business impact

Gov. John Hickenlooper estimated the race will generate more than $100 million for the state economy.

Schneider said he expects the hard cost of putting on the event in Steamboat at $120,000 to $140,000. Steamboat also had to guarantee 810 room nights for the ride. In 2009, the occupancy rate for lodging in Steamboat that August weekend topped off at 44 percent.

If Livermore is an example, business can only go up during the race's time in Steamboat.

"We probably did 20 percent more or a little more for the day," said Ron Witherspoon, who owns the First Street Alehouse in Livermore. "It's hard to say how much of that carried over to days prior or after. The main thing I got out of it was all the exposure I got. It was huge for me."

Although there are certain to be hiccups, the short- and long-term impacts of the race are already apparent.

Just as Livermore's vineyards could remind someone of France and draw them back, Steamboat's picturesque setting, unique downtown and abundance of outdoor activities could do the same.

"It's absolutely telling the story of Steamboat," Schneider said. "It is a community, it is a ski town, it is a bike town and hopefully people come back and visit again."

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com