USA Pro Cycling Challenge Ends with Fanfare in Denver

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The U-S-A Pro Cycling Challenge ended in Denver Sunday. American Levi Leipheimer took the title. The race was the first time Colorado’s hosted a premier tournament since the Coors Classic was shuttered more than two decades ago. CPR’s Ben Markus was at the finish and has this report.

Reporter Ben Markus: 500 miles in seven days, not to mention the toughest climbs in professional cycling. It was all over Sunday as rider’s crossed the finish in front of the Capitol. And in the end, the world’s best couldn’t pass American Levi Leipheimer as he took home the the yellow jersey. He lead five of the seven stages. But he told the finish line crowd that the race was far from easy.

Levi Leipheimer: I got to tell you it took some of the best form of my life to win this race against Christian, TJ, and Garmin Cervelo.

Reporter: He was referring to Tejay Van Garderen who finished 3rd and Christian Vande Velde who finished 2nd. Vande Velde was part of the winning team, Garmin Cervelo, based in Boulder. After the jerseys were handed out Garmin Cervelo rider Dave Zabriskie, looking exhausted and leaning against the team bus, says Colorado proved itself well suited for professional cycling.

Dave Zabriskie: Honestly, I think this is rivaling California, yeah, it’s right up there there with California for sure.

Reporter: The Tour of California is the country’s largest cycling race. He says the fan support here was intense.

Zabriskie: I mean you can’t even have a conversation in the field with your colleagues, so it’s really loud.

Reporter: Cycling fan Chris DeMuchi from Steamboat Springs agrees. He traveled to several stages along the route.

Chris DeMuchi: I mean the crowds have just been phenomenal, you know, equal as everything you see in Europe. So it’s great to see that Coloradans have really come out to shown what supporters they are of the sport, so it’s been awesome.

Reporter: That’s what tour organizers and local politicians wanted to hear. The race is expected to bring in up to 70 million dollars in direct economic benefit from the influx of fans. Standing at the finish line Governor John Hickenlooper said that’s just in the short term.

John Hickenlooper: There’s also 20 million people listening to it on radio around the world, watching it on television around the world and that kind of exposure, you know, they got to see Gunnison, Salida, Steamboat Springs, and Denver. I think it’s going to have a benefit for the entire state in a big way.

Andrew Zimbalist: I think it’s very unlikely

Reporter: Andrew Zimbalist is an economist at Smith College in Massachusetts. He’s studied the impact of the Tour de France and other sporting events.

Zimbalist: that somebody’s going to say, “oh, lets go stay a night in town X because the Colorado road race went through town X.” That’s very unlikely, at least that’s the way the empirical evidence plays out.

Reporter: But he added that bike races are not expensive to host and may add to civic pride if anything. That was true in the small mountain town of Gunnison. According to City Manager Ken Coleman.

Ken Coleman: So while there’s some economic value, there’s also intrinsic value to having this type of thing occur in your community.

Reporter: Gunnison spent about 40-thousand dollars preparing to host a stage on the tour. And Coleman says it was amazing too see thousands of people in the town on a Wednesday.

Coleman: The actual visitor-ship far exceeded what my expectations were.

Reporter: He hopes Gunnison will host another stage if the tour comes back next year. Other big U-S bike races have struggled financially. The Tours of Missouri and Georgia for instance are now defunct. But back at the finish line that was of little concern to Devin and Liz Yoder who live in Denver. Sporting matching Tour de France hats they said it was a thrill watching riders speed past.

Liz Yoder: It was awesome, it was a blast to watch this. Devin Yoder: Yeah, and this needs to happen every year Liz: And finish in Denver every year.

Reporter: Tour organizers said after the race that it’s definitely coming back next year.

[Photo: Ben Markus]