Steamboat Springs The USA Pro Challenge dominated Steamboat Springs for a week last summer, the professional cycling race’s third stop in the city in its five-year history.
It may not return any time soon.
Race organizers announced Friday they are suspending the 2016 version of the event.
“What we don't want to do is put a Band-Aid on this. We are going to take a pause and focus," Shawn Hunter, the longtime chief of the race, told the Denver Post. “Unless we can pull this off in a manner like we have for the last five years, we think the prudent thing is to hold off and launch in 2017.”
The announcement caps, at least for now, a short and turbulent life for the event, which counted nearly as many official names changes as bike races.
At the root of the unrest was the race’s owners, Colorado restaurateurs Rick and Richard Schaden. According to the Post, they struggled to get the race to a break-even point, eventually pumping in more than $20 million of their own money before relinquishing control last September.
That freed long-time race organizer CEO Shawn Hunter to chase down new ownership.
He said he’ll need a little more time.
“As we finish the transition of the USA Pro Challenge to a new ownership group, the focus has been on the continuing legacy of the race,” Hunter said in a news release. “The timing and work involved in this endeavor does not allow us to produce the event in 2016 and achieve all the goals of our important stakeholders. Instead, we have targeted 2017 to restart this iconic race. “
Race will be remembered
In its three stops in Steamboat Springs, the race did leave an indelible mark.
In 2011, the race’s inaugural running, thousands of fans roared as Italian rider Elia Viviani won a dramatic sprint to the finish.
A heart-stopping breakaway attempt by German cycling legend Jens Voigt defined the race’s entrance in Steamboat in 2013. His gritty attempt came up just short, and Peter Sagan went on to win the sprint finish.
Steamboat was the site of both a stage finish and a stage start in 2011 and 2013. In 2015, it got even more, playing host to the overall event start, in addition to another stage start.
Teams spent much of the week before the race in town training on local routes. Stage 1 consisted of two circuit laps on county roads. It wasn’t expected to be a difficult day by pro cycling standards, but the area’s geography took a bigger bite than expected.
The peloton shattered on South Routt County’s persistent climbs, and Colorado rider Taylor Phinney emerged from the survivors to win a surprise victory in his home state.
Fans dotted the entire course and packed downtown. When the race rode over Rabbit Ears Pass a day later, hundreds more waited there.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” said Jim Schneider on Friday, reminiscing about the summer.
“It was one of the best events, if not the best event, we’ve seen in the summer in Steamboat,” he said. “It was great.”
Schneider was a staple on a local committee that helped bring the race to Steamboat. The city being the site of the race’s 2015 start was the result of a two-year endeavor.
He said there were no plans to try to land a stage in 2016, as the city had adopted an every-other-year schedule, but he added it would likely have been in the mix for 2017.
He’s hopeful Steamboat can still get that crack at 2017.
“I know they had some challenges, financially,” Schneider said. “They’re trying to make it positive. Shawn Hunter and the group that’s organizing it has certainly done a great job in the decisions they’ve made.”
Fans sad to say goodbye
Local cycling fans aren't optimistic about seeing the event return. Instead, their attitude was more, “Be happy it came rather than sad it’s gone.”
“I don’t think anyone who follows bike racing in the United States was surprised,” local cyclist Corey Piscopo said of the news. “It’s incredibly expensive to pull off an event of that scale, and it’s a repeated pattern in the United States that those events have come and gone.”
If it doesn’t return, the race will join a graveyard that includes top-notch events such as Tour of Georgia and Tour of Missouri, as well as the Coors Classic, a stage race that crisscrossed Colorado in the 1980s.
Losing the event is a bittersweet pill to swallow for local pro cyclist Amy Charity.
Charity cheered on all three finishes in Steamboat Springs, then got the chance to take part last year. She competed with her pro team in the first, and potentially only, women’s USA Pro Challenge.
There were bright spots on both ends, she said.
“Watching the race come into Steamboat was amazing,” she said. “Just to see everyone so excited and to see the little kids cheering and knowing the names of some of the cyclists was so huge. The finish downtown was picture-perfect.”
Riding in a supporting role for her Optum Pro Cycling teammates, she ended up in 21st place in the three-stage event. A stage from Loveland to Fort Collins, going over Rist Canyon, stood as a highlight.
“That was one of the hardest moments of my life,” Charity said. “Now, in hindsight, I remember it being great.
“I’m very biased, but Colorado is the best state to ride a bike in, and the Pro Challenge put on a beautiful race. It was great to have it, and I really hope it will come back.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9