Friday Group Ride #81

I must admit, begrudgingly, that Colorado makes a pretty spectacular backdrop for a stage race. From the mammoth climbs, to the sprawling vistas, to the dedicated outdoor community who line the roads to cheer the riders, the US ProCycling Challenge has looked really great. And adding altitude to the test of extreme climbing gives the race a wrinkle that few others can offer.

As I’ve watched it, along with the Vuelta, it has struck me that, if the Vuelta is basically the Spanish climbing championship, then the USPCC is just the US climbing championship. They have nice symmetry that way.

But while one is a storied, if slightly under-appreciated, grand tour, first run in 1935, the other is a complete upstart. Perhaps the USPCC is merely a sign of the times. The balance of cycling power has been shifting over the last two decades. North Americans are making up a larger and larger share of both pro riders and big sponsors. The USPCC may be the culmination of that shift.

Still, if history is any sort of lesson, the likelihood that this race will still be going in ten years is low. The Coors Classic, the primogenitor of the USPCC, was a great big race that attracted top riders from the European peloton. It ran as a three day event (under the sponsorship of Celestial Seasonings) from 1975 to 1980, when Coors took over as primary sponsor and expanded it to a two week race.

By all outward indications the Coors Classic was a highly successful endeavor, generating millions in TV, merchandising and advertising revenue. But the beer company pulled out after 1988 and race organizers were unable to secure a new sponsor. This is, in brief, the story of stage races in the US (e.g. Tour of Missouri, Tour of Georgia).

USPCC has given itself a further challenge, running its inaugural event in a recession, with sponsorship dollars fleeing the sport (HTC anyone?). So there is this tremendous incongruity playing itself out on my TV screen, great racing, beautiful scenery, top talent, but little hope of long term survival. I can’t convince myself to invest in it emotionally, and I can’t convince myself to turn away.

This week’s Group Ride asks: What do you think of the US ProCycling Challenge?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. CAT4Fodder

    Sums it up perfectly. Living out here in Colorado, the public seems to be supportive and knowledgeable about the race, but, much (if not all) of the marketing of the race is related to the fact that the 3 podium winners from the Tour de France are racing in this race.

    As I said to a friend….when you start off with this level of racing, you can only go downhill from here. Quiznos already pulled back (my understanding some of this was due to financial difficulties at the Company), and how to bring on more sponsors if your selling point includes a less prestigious field next year, with a less novel race (second time around will not be as unique). Add to this the fact that this race hurt the Tour of Utah, and Lance (ego included), may be responsible for killing off two races in a few years.

    The only good point through this whole thing is the fact that the Lance effect has been non-existent with this race.

  2. James

    I haven’t been able to watch all of it but the bits I have watch have been, frankly, boring. The prologue was a snoozer (even I can go fast down hill)with little in the way of time gains or losses. The climbs, though high, don’t really seem to put anyone in difficulty as they just don’t seem very steep. I find myself watching for 20 minutes and then turning the TV off thinking “so what”! Something is missing and I can’t put my finger on it.

  3. CAT4Fodder

    part of the problem was that many of the real steep climbs here in Colorado either are smaller roads to nowwhere (think Fall River Road) or are in the Boulder vicinity, Durango or Grand Junction.

    A few options, such as Magnolia, Rist Canyon or Flagstaff are not being used because Boulder/Fort Collins and Estes Park were not willing to pony up with the demands of the race in terms of hotels etc… What you ended up with was a race to into and out of ski towns, which unfortunately, mean a lot of State Highways, or State roads which are more modern, and built to minimize the grade.

    Part of the misnomer with Colorado is that the roads are steep here. In fact, most of the roads are in the 3 – 6% grade range, and the hurdle is not the grade, but oxygen issue. Problem is, this impacts most guys equally, and without the steep grades, where attacks can stick, all this does is create slower climbing for the pack, without the attacks.

  4. LD

    So far for me the race has surpassed the ToC. Perhaps its because of the newness or curiosity of a new event but the crowds have been pretty strong although on tv its easy to edit and shoot angels that make it seem more crowded. Paul and Phil are up to their epically (but amusing) poor commentating. The problem isn’t sponsorship dollars cuz the US has more money than anywhere else. Its just not ingrained into our culture. Were always trying to turn a buck whereas in Europe they’ll run a race if only because they love bike racing. Here if the profit’s not there. Boom, the promoters are out. I think ultimately this race will last longer and be more successful than the ToC though.

  5. Souleur

    So far, so good

    Look, I couldn’t care less where a bike race is, as a cyclist I fully support it. The organizers could have said lets do antartica or death valley and I would watch and consider taking my family there to watch, like lets make a vacation out of it honey.

    The reality is that as cyclists in the US, we are a minority overall.

    Nonetheless, its interesting that even in Europe, cyclists are a minority too but have garnered good support of the events there. There are some post-anecdotal notes from even France that remark about the Frenches overall demeanor toward the TdF, and it surprised me that they have a laissez faire attitude of it.

    So, that continues to give me hope that the USProCyclingChallenge will take hold. I do think they need a better name, because nobody can really take ownership of ‘USPCC’.

    Good luck to Colorado, i hope they have the success of the ToC

  6. Wayne

    The weakness of any US stage race is summarized by the fact that the race has a title sponsor. Long lived races make money by having many advertisers which reduces the risk of any single sponsor leaving. For example, PMU could leave the TDF and it would continue. This is the same problem faced by cycling teams and results makes them short term ventures that die on the whim of a single company.

  7. travis

    I think that TOC not withstanding the USPRO Challenge has been an amazing spectacle to watch to be sure. I too am concerned about the mass exodus of sponsors (read dollars) from our beloved sport, but remain hopeful that we can overlook the financial times and keep up the momentum of successful events like this. I know, as a country we are far from truly getting to the level of others with regard to sports like cycling or soccer, and until we can get inner city kids on bikes or kicking soccer balls we will always lag behind the rest of the world. But again, I think that if the momentum can sustain itself, the future will be bright in the US for sports like these.

  8. armybikerider

    C’mon…..turning away after 20 minutes? Like Souleur I don’t care where a bike race is held….it’s a freakin’ PRO level race – in the USA no less! Boring? I thought it was awesome to see A. Schleck in a (sadly ill-fated) 150 km break!….now if he’d just adopt that style of racing more often!

    Good luck Colorado! I’m not holding my breath – but I hope that this race survives more than just a few years!

  9. Ben

    I live in CO so I’m obviously thrilled that the USPCC went off and was seemingly a success and at least had good fan support (if a bi too good at times w/ dudes embracing their inner Basque-men or tifosi). I agree the course could be tougher and I hope tougher roads/climbs will be used in the future. I think we all need to remember (or at least the haters) that $ is driving this. If the ski-towns hadn’t ponied up the $ then there wouldn’t have been a USPCC. Hopefully future races will find a balance between funding needs and course design.

  10. Bikelink

    Watched a bunch on the ‘tour tracker’ on my iphone and on cable. Thought it wouldn’t matter that it was in the US but it did somehow. The TdF podium and novelty of a big US race in CO and this time of year encouraged me to start watching, but I kept at it following the action. Tangential to the main question, but why not have more mountain top finishes? As a mediocre cat 4, I’m amazed so many people can go over a mountain together, but in the pros they do. The one uphill finish included a (short) breakaway solo attack in the last kilo by a GC favorite….cool!

  11. Sophrosune

    I have watched the race on Eurosport with commentary provided by David Duffield, who has been merciless in his scathing criticism of the race. And well-deserved criticism I must say. Most of it has been unwatchable because they can’t broadcast a live signal from mobile cameras whether they be on motorbikes or helicopters. This sort of thing should have really been sorted out.

    Colorado may be lovely but it is sparsely populated making the crowds thin. The actual parcours is about as dull as one can imagine. Mile upon mile of straight as an arrow highway and then climbs that hardly seem to look any different from the seemingly endless flat roads.

    To me it seems largely a stunt race: What if the race were all above 12,000 feet? Has that really proven to be that interesting. You attract a bunch of third-tier Colombian teams, but other than that not much is different.

    The crowds, especially on the hills, are largely informed about cycling by watching TdF only on the mountain stages. This results is people who not only run alongside the riders but crisscross in front of them. Often a nerve-racking display, but ultimately just depressing.

    I kept saying to myself as I was watching this: For this the Vuelta has been diluted?

    I am all for US racing events but do they really need to go head-to-head with the Giro and Vuelta to accomplish this? If US cycling is really going to take this approach, why not step up and put on one of its largest events against the TdF? I think we know the reason for that.

    A sad display and I hope it is either moved to another date or goes the way of most US cycling events: down the toilet.

  12. Author

    @sophrosune – While I think you’re assessment is a bit harsh in places, I don’t entirely disagree. I think it’s a really bad idea for both ToC and USPCC to run during the Giro and Vuelta. It’s bad for them. It’s bad for us. It’s bad for cycling. IMO.

    The US has some great topography for bike races. I think we can support two or three world class events, but the planning has got to be better.

  13. Sophrosune

    @Robot I am all for great American races, but sloppy attempts to do so at the cost of derailing the two smaller and weaker grand tours hardly seems the way to go about doing it. The Vuelta btw has been a great race this year with hard-fought and close racing. In contrast to the US Cycling Challenge, you can watch the entire race without the picture breaking up and today the usual color commentary provided by Pedro Delgado was augmented by Alberto Contador.

  14. Author

    @Sophrosune – I think what you’re actually saying is that I live in the wrong country, which I could believe.

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