Just months away from its 20th anniversary edition, organizers of Idaho's Women's Challenge confirmed Monday that the race, which has grown into the largest stage race in the United States and one of the biggest stops on the international women's calendar, has been canceled. "I'm just heartbroken," Women's Challenge director of operations Robyn Browne told VeloNews. "At first I was stunned, then I got I mad and now I'm beginning to understand what we're losing here and that's just really sad." Browne, who has been with Women's Challenge Inc. for seven

New title sponsor withdraws

The loss will be felt by both.
The loss will be felt by both.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Just months away from its 20th anniversary edition, organizers of Idaho’s Women’s Challenge confirmed Monday that the race, which has grown into the largest stage race in the United States and one of the biggest stops on the international women’s calendar, has been canceled.

“I’m just heartbroken,” Women’s Challenge director of operations Robyn Browne told VeloNews. “At first I was stunned, then I got I mad and now I’m beginning to understand what we’re losing here and that’s just really sad.”

Browne, who has been with Women’s Challenge Inc. for seven years, said “the loss is huge for women’s racing, for the volunteers, for the community and, really for the kids that come to see this here in Boise.”

Indeed, many of the women competing in recent editions of the Women’s Challenge got their first exposure to the sport of cycling through the race. Throughout its history, the race has attracted some of the world’s best, including world and Olympic champions.

“It’s not too often you get a chance to see people of that caliber in any sport competing in a place like Idaho,” Browne noted. “It’s been something really special.”

The race, first organized under the banner of the Ore-Ida foods company in 1984, has long depended on a large community of volunteers and local sponsors. Indeed, in 1993, when Ore-Ida withdrew its support from the race, promoter Jim Rabdau cobbled together enough local support to promote a smaller event for a year until PowerBar came through with a title sponsorship that lasted until 1996. The following year, computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard became the event’s major sponsor.

The 2002 race was the last sponsored by HP, but organizers soon announced a tentative deal with Nebraska-based ConAgra Foods.

“We were set to focus on producing a great race, since this would have been our 20th,” Browne said.

But Browne confirmed Monday the hoped-for sponsorship deal with ConAgra fell through last week.

“We’d been negotiating with them since October,” Browne said. “We had things like logos going back and forth, we had contracts going through their legal department, we were working things out and then it went to their finance department…. Since then, we hadn’t heard from them for a while.”

Browne said Women’s Challenge Inc. was contacted earlier this month by ConAgra officials who said “some issues had arisen.”

“We figured it was some final details that needed to be worked out,” she said. “Perhaps they wanted a shorter race or whatever, but when they finally said it, it was ‘we’re sorry. We just can’t do it.'”

Browne said the news comes too late to save the event for 2003. “It’s really way too late,” she said. “It’s not like 1993. This comes too late, there’s no money. There’s no momentum and we’ve already notified the UCI. It’s done.”

Browne said it is unlikely that the race will be resurrected in 2004, either.

“No,” she said. “It’s done. We’re shutting the office; we’re getting rid of the equipment. It’s over.”