Durango wants a taste of tour

City plans bid for first stage of Tour of Colorado

Lance Armstrong signs autographs after returning to the state Capitol from a short ride around Denver on Aug. 4. Before the ride, Armstrong announced that an elite-level professional bike tour will happen in Colorado in 2011, and now Durango is preparing to submit its bid for the first stage. Enlarge photo

JOE HANEL/Herald

Lance Armstrong signs autographs after returning to the state Capitol from a short ride around Denver on Aug. 4. Before the ride, Armstrong announced that an elite-level professional bike tour will happen in Colorado in 2011, and now Durango is preparing to submit its bid for the first stage.

More than 12 months ago, Anne Barney, Mary Monroe and Gaige Sippy sat down over a cup of coffee.

Lance Armstrong had just traded his road bike for a mountain bike, called a few friends, including locals Travis Brown and Matt Shriver, then set out to beat Dave Wiens and set a new record in the legendary Leadville 100.

The result was familiar: Armstrong won.

Still unfamiliar at the time were the details of his dealings with Gov. Bill Ritter concerning the Tour of Colorado, the reincarnation of the Coors Classic stage race from the 1980s and its predecessor, the Red Zinger race.

“We have all the logical things in place,” Armstrong told The Durango Herald last October when he rolled through Durango for the premier of “Race Across the Sky,” the documentary of his ’09 ride on the 100.

“I think if we can get the corporate support, at the national and international level, then we’ll get that day on the calendar,” he said.

They got the corporate support, and the Quiznos Pro Challenge was born. The seven-day stage race – sanctioned by USA Cycling and the International Cycling Union and managed by Medalist Sports – will take place Aug. 22-28, 2011.

It’s the who’s and the where’s that remain missing.

Barney, Monroe and Sippy have been dreaming about answering those questions for a long time, and they are merely days away from officially submitting their proposal for one of those seven stages – the first one.

“The logistics of getting from one part of the state to the next … I think our best chance (to host a stage) is to start,” said Monroe, one-fourth (Barney, Sippy and Sherri Dugdale) of the local organizing committee formed to formulate this plan. “The route is not for us to totally decide, but it is a domino.”

“Who has the right ingredients to pull it off? Durango certainly does,” she added.

The Tour, Monroe said, will finish in Denver, where Quiznos’ national headquarters resides. Aspen, where Armstrong keeps a home, also will submit a bid for a downtown criterium and a route along Independence Pass. Vail also is expected to submit a proposal.

“If you start here in Durango, then you look at all viable routes to get from Durango to Telluride,” said Sippy, race director for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. “I think that’s via Mancos, Dolores, Lizard Head Pass into Telluride. With the opening stage of a Tour like this, you try not to make it too decisive, where there’s a 10-minute time gap, then the race is over.

“This is a bit of a traveling circus, but that’s why we’ve been in touch with the ringmaster in Telluride and the ringmaster in Montrose,” he said.

The logistics of hosting the first stage differ from the middle five or even the finish. There are 1,100 rooms to provide for approximately 160 professional cyclists and the estimated entourage of nearly 900 fans and family to follow; there are temporary road closures; there is a support staff to consider, including emergency vehicles; there will be significant media coverage, nationally and internationally; the city will have to be involved, including airport officials, police and fire and rescue.

And eight committees must be formed, Monroe said, just to organize the committees.

The cost is estimated to run anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000.

“This is a good opportunity for our city,” Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. “The costs incurred by the community aren’t necessarily tied to the city government. Given what we spend on marketing every year, this is going to bring a lot of attention nationally and internationally to our city. The 1990 mountain bike championships, we’re still seeing the benefits from that.”

“The Tour of California, by example, and the cities that hosted (stages) and what that meant for their local economy is tremendous.”

Medalist Sports also runs the Tour of California, which has produced more than 4 million spectators since 2006 and more than $300 million of revenue.

Durango, as LeBlanc mentioned, also boasts on its cycling résumé: one world championship, three international events, more than 15 national competitions and 39 years of the Iron Horse.

“Durango has a tremendous reputation,” said Ed Zinc, the IHBC founder. “We know what we’re doing, and we’ll do it well.”

“(Medalist Sports gains) credibility by tying this tour to Durango. If they go to a bunch of towns that nobody has ever heard of, no big cycling history, then cyclists are less likely to participate.”

Proposals are due Friday, and Monroe expects to hear a decision sometime mid-month.

Monroe’s husband, Brown, a Hall of Fame cyclist and friend of Armstrong, said he’s discussed the Tour with Armstrong but is leaving all proposals up to his wife, the committee and Southwest Colorado.

“I think if you’re going to have a stage race showcasing cycling in Colorado, having a stage that starts or finishes or at least touches this part of the state is pretty compelling. ... There are a lot of reasons to come here,” he said. “We’re a little biased, but if you’re going to have a bike race showing off Colorado and you miss the Southwest corner of this state, then you’re not showing off Colorado.”

One year ago, as the early makings of Durango’s special cycling task force was rendering its rough draft to be a part of the tour, Armstrong was asked if his stage race would come to Durango.

“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to reach everything. There’s so much history in Colorado, we’d have to race for three weeks to touch everything.

“We gotta hit on those traditional places,” he continued. “We don’t want a few people and a couple of chickens at the finish line; we want 50,000 people cheering, and Durango would provide that.”

aaron@ durangoherald.com Herald Staff Writer Patrick Young contributed to this report.