Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser and Michael Martelon, CEO of the Telluride Tourism Board, can’t say for sure. But they know that hosting the finish of the first stage of this summer’s Pro Cycling Challenge will be huge.
“Thousands of visitors,” Fraser says. “As big as Bluegrass. Bigger than Bluegrass.”
But unlike Bluegrass, there is no limit to tickets that can be sold (which is how the town controls the size of the Bluegrass crowd). There are, in fact, no tickets; anyone can come to watch the pro cyclists race down the Hwy. 145 Spur and then through the streets of Telluride to the finish, making the real likely attendance impossible to project.
Not knowing in advance how many thousands will descend on Telluride on Aug. 19-21 is only the first of the challenges facing the local organizing committee, headed by Martelon. Martelon and Fraser and the several dozen other local officials and volunteers on the committee know they will need to provide 630 hotel rooms for racers, race organizers, and media on the two days – an effort being overseen by Frank Ruggeri of Telluride Alpine Lodging. They know they’ll have to control traffic and parking, and will have to provide for media access and security, and will have to attend to countless other technical details. And on top of that there are ancillary events to be planned to keep the crowds entertained before and after the race.
In return, the economic impact, Martelon, Fraser and Ruggeri said in an interview this week, should be immense, particularly considering the global media exposure.
Last year’s first ever Colorado Pro Cycling Challenge was unexpectedly successful in terms of participation by the world’s top bike racers, attendance and media coverage. On the heels of that precedent, organizers anticipate that this year’s event may be even bigger, perhaps the biggest sporting event ever held in Colorado, perhaps America’s Tour de France, or Colorado’s Kentucky Derby, for years and years to come – aspirations expressed in a promotional video.
If that happens, could Telluride be a regular stop?
Very possibly, thanks to favorable altitude and terrain in the surrounding San Juans that ensures superior stages that finish here, and, especially, Martelon suggested, after Telluride demonstrates this year that it can handle the event with aplomb.
While Telluride was selected to host a stage finish, Montrose was awarded the start of the next stage. Under the direction of Jenni Sopsic, executive director of the Montrose Association of Commerce and Tourism, the Montrose local organizing committee is working to create a festival atmosphere surrounding the start of the August 21 stage that will finish in Crested Butte. Since the entire tour won’t be spending a night in Montrose, and given the town’s broad geography, spectators should be able to find great viewing points from which to watch the racers whir past.
For the same reasons, immediate impacts in Montrose aren’t likely to be as profound as in Telluride. But like the Telluride organizers, Sopsic expects great marketing dividends from the international media exposure and increased visitation Montrose will receive by serving as a host city.
In Telluride, Martelon has devised a strategy that is new to Telluride to actually pay the hotels that provide the lodging required for the event by asking the entire lodging community to contribute $15 per night, per room for rooms not associated with the Pro
Cycling room block. It’s anticipated that lodgers will be able to make up the cost with slightly higher rates associated with events of this magnitude. The Town of Telluride is also contributing $37,500, a sum Mountain Village will be asked to match. A similar plan is underway to ask restaurants to contribute to a fund that will be tapped to pay for the food and beverage portion that the committee is obligated to provide to the race – again on the premise that restaurants will see much higher volume compared to a typical Sunday and Monday in late August.
The payback to the community at-large will come not only from the hordes of race organizers, international media and spectators expected to descend on town, generating sales and sales tax dollars, and the vast international exposure, but also from the expectation that at least some visitors attracted by the event will extend their stay beyond the two nights that the race will be here. Indeed, plans are being developed to create events before and after the race to encourage longer stays.
If all goes according to plan, another tangible takeaway will be a new iconic Telluride image: a pro cyclist crossing the finish line under a banner strung across main street in front of the courthouse, Ajax in the background, crowds cheering, his arms raised in exultation as he grabs the yellow jersey at the start of the world’s newest mega sports event.
How better for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to brand itself or for Telluride to bask in the glow?