MATT MCCLAIN/Special to The Denver Post
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, center in white helmet, participated in a bike ride from the state capitol to Washington Park on Wednesday in downtown Denver to announce The Quiznos Pro Challenge. The race will be the first pro cycling event in Colorado since the Coors Classic, which ran from 1979 to 1988. The Pro Challenge will take place Aug. 22 to 28, 2011, and will include mountain, sprint and downtown stages.
Denver Cycling icon Lance Armstrong and Gov. Bill Ritter officially announced plans Wednesday for an elite, seven-stage international cycling race to take place next summer.
The Quiznos Pro Challenge will be the first pro cycling event of significance in the state since the Coors Classic, which ran from 1979 to 88 and gave a huge boost to the sport in America. Armstrong and Colorado’s cycling governor were the prime movers in bringing the new event to the state.
“This is the birth of an event,” Armstrong said at a gathering on the west steps of the capitol that drew a large crowd including many on bikes. “But in a lot of ways, it’s the rebirth of an old, traditional, historic event that we all came to know and love a long, long time ago.”
Ritter recalled watching the Morgul-Bismark stage of the Coors Classic when he was a law student in Boulder, and he said Colorado offers “some of the best geography anywhere in the world for cycling.”
No decisions have been made regarding where the stages of the new event will take place. It will be held Aug. 22 to 28, 2011, most likely with a mixture of mountain, sprint and downtown stages. It is expected to draw top cycling teams from across the world.
“Back in the day, European cyclists, international cyclists, they didn’t want to come to the United States and race,” Armstrong said. “It was a long trip, it was a hassle, it didn’t mean anything to their sponsors. That’s not the case today. If you look at the Tour of California, you look at this event, I can tell you, the best European riders will be lined up to come to this event.”
The seed of the idea came from Armstrong, who thought about it while daydreaming on a long bike ride last year when he was training near Aspen. Armstrong thought about it a few more days and decided to call Ritter, telling him it was “a shame” Colorado didn’t have a major cycling event.
“We have all of the right makings of a professional stage race, we’d be the best state in the country to host a stage race, and we have this passion for cycling that exists in Colorado, unlike a lot of other places in the United States,” Ritter said Armstrong told him.
Soon after that, they met for lunch in Aspen, after which Ritter formed a study group to explore the feasibility of Armstrong’s idea.
Sponsorship figured to be the biggest obstacle, but executives of the Denver-based Quiznos chain were eager to get involved after learning about what Ritter and Armstrong were trying to do.
“When we read that Lance and the governor were talking about bringing a race back to Colorado, we were the first ones at the door,” said Ellen Kramer, Quiznos chief communications officer. “We used every channel we possibly could to get at that first meeting to say, ‘We want to be part of this.’
Medalist Sports, which puts on the Tour of California in May, will organize the Colorado tour. The first task is to figure out the locations of stages.
“We’re going to put out to all the communities throughout the state what we call a ‘request for proposal,’ outlining what the needs are of the event as well as the benefits the community will see,” said Medalist managing partner Jim Birrell, who was facilities director for the Coors Classic.
“That will guide us how we can connect the dots to build not only a competitive course but an iconic course representing the state.”