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Former Colorado Gov. Ritter optimistic USA Pro Challenge will return next year

June 6, 2016, 7:36 am
bill ritter usa pro challenge

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter at the original USA Pro Challenge announcement in 2010 (Getty Images).

An avid cyclist, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter remains hopeful that the USA Pro Challenge cycling race he pushed hard for during his one term in office will return to the state in 2017 after a one-year hiatus in 2016.

“There are a lot of people who are very interested in finding a way for that race to reappear,” Ritter recently told RealVail.com. “The beauty of that race had a lot to do with the geography of Colorado and what a bike-friendly state we are. Those two things haven’t changed.”

The USA Pro Challenge, which Ritter teamed up with Lance Armstrong to stump for starting in 2009, ran for five years starting in 2011 but lost its founding funders when the Schaden family of Quiznos sandwich shop famed pulled out in the fall of 2015.

Current Gov. John Hickenlooper pulled together a team that included sporting-goods icon Ken Gart as bike czar to find new funders and sponsors and keep the stage race on track for this year, but organizers announced a one-year hiatus in February.

“The timing and work involved in this endeavor does not allow us to produce the event in 2016 and achieve all the goals of our important stakeholders,” a statement from organizers read at the time. “Instead, we have targeted 2017 to restart this iconic race.”

In five years the USA Pro Challenge established a reputation as one of the most grueling cycling races in the world, with daunting stages traversing some of the highest terrain in the state, including Vail Pass, Independence Pass and a stage that ended at Beaver Creek ski area.

It also drew more than a million spectators a year and was estimated to have brought $130 million in economic benefit to the state, including national television exposure.

“Finding a sponsor who’s willing to sponsor the race or finding people who are willing to back the race, that’s essential to the future,” Ritter said. “That’s the one thing that we need.”

Four of its five years the race was won by Americans, some of them modern-day U.S. legends of the sport, including Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde in the first two years. Leipheimer beat out an inaugural field that included the entire podium from that year’s Tour de France – Cadel Evans and both Schleck brothers.

Then rising young star Tejay van Garderen claimed the title the next two years. The now-established rider with ties to Boulder and Aspen recently made headlines by announcing he’ll skip this year’s Summer Olympic in Rio de Janeiro out of fears over the Zika virus.

Van Garderen beat out Pro Challenge fields in 2013 and 2014 that included more cycling luminaries such as Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Ritter teamed up with former seven-time Tour de France winner and part-time Aspen resident Armstrong to campaign for the race back in 2009-10, well before Armstrong admitted to doping and left the sport in disgrace – stripped of his titles and Olympic medals.

That scandal broke during the second year of the Pro Challenge in 2012 and transfixed the cycling world that August.

Ritter says he wants the race back as a showcase not only for the athletes but also for the natural wonders that make Colorado unique and a true cycling mecca.

“We certainly need to find sponsors for it, but what hasn’t changed is the geography in Colorado, the topography, and the bike-friendly nature of the people in this state,” Ritter said. “Those two things together make this a great state to still have the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.”

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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