Colorado Classic pitches ‘Hail Mary’ for sponsor as pro bike racing fails in US – The Durango Herald

Fans cheer on cyclists at the finish line during Stage 1 of the 2019 Colorado Classic in Steamboat Springs. (Matt Stensland / Special for The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Classic women’s bike race that started in 2019 needs a deep-pocketed investor to stay alive

The investors behind the Colorado Classic women’s bicycle race are launching a Hail Mary.

Unless a title sponsor brings in $3 million – and the willingness not to see a return on that investment for a year or two – the western hemisphere’s most prominent women’s professional cycling race will disappear.

“I think there’s a Fortune 500 type company – like a large financial institution – that can see this race as a proven platform for diversity, equity and inclusion and they can see what’s happened. past with women’s soccer and women’s tennis and they want to do the same with women’s cycling,” said Ken Gart, the Colorado entrepreneur and investor who helped create the Colorado Classic cycling race in 2017 and converting it to an all-female race in 2019.

“So yes, it’s a Hail Mary. It’s totally a building scenario and they will come,” Gart said. “We need someone who will believe in this mission.”

Gart’s RPM Events group kicked off the annual Colorado Classic in 2017 with a men’s and women’s bike race and music festival in downtown Denver. In 2019, they canceled the music and switched to women’s races, with the new Colorado VF Corp. signed as title sponsor and the live broadcast from start to finish replacing an expensive television network contract.

The Colorado Classic replaced the USA Pro Challenge, which had spent five years trying to revive professional bike racing in Colorado. The owners of Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge folded the race in 2017, saying they lost $20 million after five years without a title sponsor.

The American racing industry has a flat tire

If the Colorado Classic folds, it will be the third top-level professional bike race in the United States to conclude since 2019.

Anschutz Entertainment Group suspended its 2020 Tour of California cycling race until fall 2019. AEG, owned by Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz, started the race in 2006 with title sponsor Amgen, a biopharmaceutical company that incidentally manufactures Epogen, a drug used to treat cancer patients that also boosts athletic performance and has haunted cycling for decades. A statement from AEG at the time said the “business fundamentals” of men’s and women’s racing had changed.

In December, Tour of Utah organizers canceled the race for 2022. The pandemic suspended the Tour of Utah in 2020 and 2021. The race, which drew hundreds of the world’s best cyclists for seven stages of UCI professional race, was established in 2004 and purchased by Utah-based auto dealers Larry H. Miller Group of Companies in 2007. The week-long race featured non-competitive public rides that attracted thousands of participants.

Medalist Sports, the sports management company that hosted Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge and took over the Tour of Utah last year, said the event has the support of sponsors and Utah communities. But it was “not strong enough to sustain a viable effort to meet our collective expectations,” Medalist Sports owner Chris Aronhalt said in a statement announcing the cancellation of the 2022 race. only skipped three years and came back, so it’s likely the Utah race is dead.)

Cyclists cross the finish line in Denver during the Colorado Classic in 2019, the first year the race featured all-female athletes. (Provided by Colorado Classic)

The USA Pro Challenge, Tour of California and Tour of Utah join an ever-growing graveyard of American professional cycling races. The Red Zinger Bicycle Classic and the Coors Classic of Colorado are located in this graveyard, alongside the Tour DuPont, Tour of Georgia and Tour of Missouri.

There remains a world-class UCI race in the United States, and it hasn’t even raced yet. The inaugural Maryland Cycling Classic, sponsored by UnitedHealthcare and managed by Medalist Sports, was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID restrictions and is now scheduled for September 5. The Maryland Cycling Classic is the only one-day race in the United States that is part of the UCI Pro Series, making it the most prestigious race in the country.

“There’s no doubt that the past few years have been a bit transformative in terms of the popularity of road cycling…and hopefully there will be a new chapter soon, because the beauty of the sport deserves it,” Aronhalt said in an email to The Colorado Sun. “Despite two years of pandemic hiatuses, we remain committed to being the top-ranked UCI event in the United States, and we are fortunate to have UnitedHealthcare as our presenting partner.”

These title sponsors are essential. The Tour of California lasted 14 years thanks to Amgen and Lexus. The Tour of Utah lasted even longer thanks to Larry Miller car dealerships. But it’s not just about funding, said Kristin Klein, former president of the Amgen Tour of California and executive vice president of AEG, who now works with Gart as a consultant.

“Amgen didn’t sell bikes,” Klein said. “But they knew racing helped them promote overall health and well-being and they used cycling as a vehicle to really promote a healthy lifestyle. The Colorado Classic provides the same opportunity for a sponsor who wants to help to create a fair platform for men and women.

Gart spent the last year trying to find a replacement for VF Corp., which gave the Colorado Classic $1 million for two years of races, but organizers were only able to hold one race before the pandemic does not cancel everything.

“Right now we have a ‘blue sky’ moment and with the right partner we can create something that has a real and lasting impact on women’s cycling,” Gart wrote in a letter to race supporters. Tuesday morning. “The Colorado Classic is a game-changer, and without this event, opportunities for female cyclists, current and future, are significantly reduced.”

Steve Maxwell, a Boulder journalist and consultant who has spent years studying America’s struggling professional cycling business model, said there is huge international interest in the sport right now. Private equity giants spend billions on Formula 1 races, rugby teams, Indian cricket franchises and football leagues.

“There seems to be a vast flow of capital into the sport,” Maxwell said. “And underrepresented and underused women’s sports have a much lower price of entry.”

But it is difficult to present women’s sport to investors. It’s “the chicken or the egg thing,” Maxwell said.

“Everyone agrees it’s as exciting to watch as men’s sports, but it’s hard to find on TV,” Maxwell said. “You can’t really generate interest in a sport if there’s no way to watch it.”

Captivating stories

The Colorado Classic was the only Olympic qualifying women’s cycling race in the Western Hemisphere. The stories emerging from the women’s races are compelling, with moms, scientists, teachers and corporate executives pedaling through the peloton. The women’s Olympic gold medalist in cycling, for example, has a doctorate. in mathematics. Most top performers have jobs and live off the bike, unlike men who have spent most of their lives riding.

And the races were more exciting, with smaller fields on shorter courses, which led to unpredictable breakaways and dynamic sprints crowning the winners.

“The domestic racing scene in the United States is very, very strong right now and we’re showcasing women who have careers, fully trained, who have returned to racing after starting a family,” said Cari Higgins, a broker. Boulder real estate who left a company. career in medical sales to become a 19-time U.S. National Road Cycling Champion. “So it’s easy for fans to support these women. And it should be easy for a sponsor to see the value in supporting these women.

If women’s cycling could get narrative-style television documentaries showing the stories of women in professional cycling, it could spark the interest that would attract investors, Maxwell said.

“In a way, you can start from scratch with women’s cycling without all the flaws and institutional barriers of men’s cycling and you can do it for a fraction of the cost,” Maxwell said. “If someone is able to come in and invest in women’s professional sport right now, I think the payoff down the road could be quite significant.”

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