SALIDA Less than an hour before Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Tuesday, fans had mobbed the shiny black bus of local favorite Team Garmin-Cervelo, snagging autographs as the riders emerged one by one.
Fort Lewis College graduate Tom Danielson stepped off last, and Durango resident Barb Kinney spoke for many area fans.
Durango loves you, Tommy! Kinney yelled out.
Indeed, Southwest Colorado loves just about everything about cycling. If local boosters had had their way, Danielson and the other 127 riders would have started the race in downtown Durango, not Salida, and pedaled through Mancos and Dolores on their way to Telluride.
Members of the same group that proposed starting the race in the Four Corners are watching this weeks event, and they will soon decide whether to pitch the Durango-Mancos-Dolores route for the 2012 race.
Despite the excitement the race brings, organizers have to make careful decisions about whether it is worth the effort and expense.
They are wonderful things to do. Sometimes people get so excited about it on an emotional level, they dont pay enough attention to the economic level, said Ed Zink, founder of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic and organizer of 17 or 18 national championship races.
For Salida, the emotional high lasted seven minutes the time it took the racers to make two circuits around downtown before they headed to Crested Butte.
But it took a throng of yellow-shirted volunteers and many paid employees not to mention money to make it happen.
Early Tuesday morning, street sweepers were making final passes over the route and workers were setting up barricades along F Street, the main drag. By noon, minutes after the racers had left town, crews were tearing down the stage and barricades, and the crowds were dissipating.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 people saw the Salida stage start, said April Prout-Ralph of the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau.
The organizers up at the front said we rocked it, she said.
Nate Porters shop, Salida Mountain Sports, sat directly in front of the starting line.
I dont know how that happened, Porter said.
The race brought a bump in business, and people were buying, not just browsing, he said.
Salida boosters are counting on a further benefit that events like the Iron Horse cant match national television coverage.
NBCs going to be here. Once you throw television on the table, its impossible to try to estimate the residual value, said John Engelbrecht, executive director of the Salida Chamber of Commerce.
Thats the good news.
But Four Corners organizers know through experience that the benefits of big events arent always worth the cost.
I will be very curious to hear from these host towns, once the circus leaves town, what the implications are, said Anne Klein Barney of the Durango Area Tourism Office, a member of the committee that put together the Four Corners proposal for the 2011 race.
Salidas tourism bureau had to pony up about $70,000, Prout-Ralph said, mostly for hotel rooms.
Other expenses included box lunches for the race crews, breakfast and lunch for volunteers and setup workers, and a high-end breakfast for VIPs served by professional wait staff, not volunteers, according to the citys contract with Classic Bicycle Racing, owner of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
For Durango, which wants to serve as the starting line, the investment would be even heavier. The citys proposal for the 2011 race offered a $160,000 subsidy on the hotel rooms needed for advance crews, race officials and riders. The local organizing committee which includes the city managers office, the Iron Horse and the area tourism office had planned a year-long fundraising campaign.
The town put together an 83-page proposal to snag the 2011 race and impressed race organizers when they visited last year, said Mary Monroe, executive director of Trails 2000.
They definitely saw the passion for cycling and outdoor recreation that Durango entails, Monroe said.
But, because of the distance from Denver, racers would need to start in the Four Corners and work their way across the state to the Front Range. Race organizers opted for a prologue stage in Colorado Springs and a finish in Denver, in order to hit the two most populous cities.
Monroe is in Aspen this week, and other members of the committee are staking out other host towns to see if the region should apply again next year.
Zink is torn about whether next years tour should come to Southwest Colorado. One the one hand, the area has many savvy volunteers.
In fact, we are probably more qualified than other little towns because we put on the Iron Horse, Zink said. We have hundreds of people who know how to do it.
And thanks to television coverage, the tour is a home run for the state as a whole, Zink said.
But the host towns might have different experiences.
Although the tour attracted top international riders, for a while it looked to be on shaky financial footing. It changed managers and never landed a title sponsor; instead it donated the sponsorship to Millennium Promise, an anti-poverty organization.
Thats part of what gets little towns in trouble. Nobody wants to say, Can we really look at these books? Everyones expected to be loyal and excited, Zink said.
Reach Joe Hanel at [email protected]