By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
To the cheers of thousands gathered outside the state Capitol Wednesday, Gov. Bill Ritter and cycling legend Lance Armstrong announced the return of professional stage cycling in Colorado.
The inaugural Quiznos Pro Challenge will be held August 22-28, 2011, and will feature seven stages that will begin and end in Denver. Race enthusiasts said it would contain mountain, sprint and downtown stages.
A crowd estimated at 2,500, and most with bicycles, attended the press conference, attended by the governor and Armstrong.
The race will mark the first time a professional stage race has been held in Colorado since the demise of the Coors International Bicycle Classic, which ended in 1988.
“This is the birth of an event,” Armstrong said. “But in a lot of ways it’s the rebirth of an old, traditional, historic event that we all came to know and love a long, long time.”
Past legends of the sport were on hand for the announcement, including 1988 winner Davis Phinney, his wife Connie Carpenter (winner of the 1984 Olympic road race gold medal) and Ron Kiefel, who won numerous stages of the Coors Classic. Also on hand were several legislators, some already geared up and ready to ride, including Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, also attended the Wednesday announcement, as did Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.
The race’s major sponsor will be Quiznos, the sandwich chain that got its start in Denver just two blocks from the state Capitol.
An avid cyclist, Ritter cited Colorado’s cycling history, and noted that Armstrong approached him a year ago about the possibility of a race. Colorado has all the right makings for a pro race, Ritter said: the right geography and a passion for cycling “unlike a lot of other states.”
“The best European riders will be lined up” to compete in the event, Armstrong said.
The Coors Classic, in its last year of 1988, cost around $1 million, according to former tour director Michael Aisner. When asked, Ritter did not provide a figure for the state’s support, instead saying the Colorado tourism office would be lending its support and the race organizers will work with the state patrol on logistical issues.
Following the announcement, Armstrong and a few thousand enthusiastic cyclists rode off on their bikes to Washington Park, the site of stages in the Coors Classic.
The Quiznos Pro Challenge could be stepping in at the right time — two of the nation’s biggest pro races, the Tour of Georgia and the Tour of Missouri, both folded this year.
Whether there will be a women’s pro race is still up for discussion; Carpenter, a member of the board of the Pro Challenge, said she hopes to see it in as little as two years.