Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Steamboat Springs After talking with the local cyclists who recently returned from eight days of cycling the Tour de France course, it was easy to buy into the idea that cycling tourism could someday soon define Steamboat Springs summers.
In the same sense, it’s easy to see the long-term benefit of the town’s association with the USA Pro Challenge, which beams top-level cycling from Colorado across the country and globe.
For Steamboat to really capitalize on the exposure it hopes to get for the Pro Challenge’s August stop in town, it needs to find a way to stand out even more than it already does, and that might make for some difficult decisions.
This year’s Pro Challenge will fly into town from the east, over Rabbit Ears Pass and down Lincoln Avenue for a downtown finish that should be very similar to what fans saw when the race came in 2011.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, as anyone who was there will attest. Fans waited for hours for the race to arrive, and when it did, the sprint finish left them wowed. The racers charged down Lincoln Avenue with such force it felt like a fleet of semitrailers had stormed through.
It was great.
The racers left the next morning by climbing Rabbit Ears Pass, leading to another cool moment as throngs of fans cheered them on at the summit.
This year’s riders will leave town to the south, cutting down Twentymile Road on what’s one of the most popular local road riding routes.
On the surface, it all looks great. The race in 2011 and this year will hit all the right highlights, but the race won’t show them off in the right way.
To truly make the most of the race’s stop in Steamboat Springs, to best show Steamboat to the enthusiastic cyclists tuning in from Europe and elsewhere, adjustments need to be made.
Nothing would be better than a finish atop Rabbit Ears Pass.
Rabbit Ears Pass might be one of the most common and significant challenges for local cyclists, but coming right out of the gate, it was barely a footnote in the 2011 race. Riders who broke away on the climb were reeled back in on the long flat stretches that followed, and it all received only a few moments of TV time after the broadcast started midway through the stage.
This year won’t be much better. The dive down the pass will be stunning. I can’t wait. But the best cycling drama usually involves long climbs up, not fast rides down.
Twentymile might be one of the region’s great rides, but coming right at the start of the race, it will be lucky to get 20 seconds of exposure.
This year’s course simply won’t show an international audience the kind of riding that’s most likely to open their eyes and get them to add Steamboat to their cycling bucket lists.
A finish atop Rabbit Ears Pass, however, would do just that.
The prospect of the race’s leaders — the world’s best cyclists — playing their chess game on our signature climb is the kind of exposure Steamboat needs to really capitalize on the race.
A downtown finish certainly is understandable. Hosting a stage isn’t cheap, and that’s a lot of people standing around with the potential of spending money. The 2011 race was great for many local businesses. Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare, for instance, cited that as the best day in its history.
A finish at the top of Rabbit Ears might not offer that same kind of infusion, but it could do much more than a downtown finish to establish Steamboat as a biking destination in the minds of those who matter.
Nothing’s easy when it comes to the logistics of a huge race like the Pro Challenge, but file me among those wishing for a mountaintop conclusion.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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