By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
At the close of the 2002 Telluride 360 Degree Festival, Rick Sutton couldn’t have been happier. His latest brainchild had been a substantial success, and he was already looking ahead to 2003. Next year would almost certainly include a World Cup triple, and there was even talk of a point-to-point cross-country race that might start on the other side of the mountains in Durango.
Sutton’s event would eventually be awarded that World Cup triple, and until recently it looked like all was a go for the second year of the multi-sports festival in the scenic southwestern Colorado resort town. But this week that all fell apart when Sutton’s GaleForce Sports Marketing company announced that without a title sponsor, there would be no Telluride 360 Degree Festival and no World Cup race in Colorado.
“I kept thinking I could make it work and I probably waited to long to make the announcement,” admitted Sutton. “But anyone who’s ever been in this game will tell you that at some point you have to roll the dice.”
“Sending that e-mail to [the UCI] was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
As for the cause of the event’s demise, Sutton expectedly pointed to the floundering U.S. econonmy. “It’s the toughest sponsorship climate I’ve ever seen,” he explained. “Right now it’s just a dry lakebed.”
Indeed, these are some very tough times. The Telluride cancellation came on the heals of the announcement that there would be no pro prize money and limited television for this year’s NORBA series.
“I’ve never had such a challenging three months in my life,” conceded Sutton, who was involved in the failed attempt to secure a new title sponsor for the NORBA series, and had to endure a mountain of criticism resulting from the dangerous road racecourse at this year’s Sea Otter Classic. “It’s been a mind bending experience.”
While not blaming the UCI for the cancellation of Telluride, Sutton did say that the world’s cycling governing body has made things increasingly difficult for promoters.
“By making promoters give away tech space to teams, making us pay for number plates and the sound system, it all starts to add up,” he said. “The UCI takes away $50,000 to $75,000. That makes it hard.”
As for what the future holds for a sport that is clearly at a crossroads, Sutton cautioned being sucked into knee-jerk reaction.
“I think what will work — what works on the road — is a collection of eclectic events,” he predicted. “What we’ve proven over the last five years with the NORBA series and the World Cups is that anytime we try to cookie-cutter the sport with the idea that one format will work everywhere, it’s never worked.
“I do think there needs to be a new direction taken, but without trying to overly define that direction right now. The worst thing to do is overreact. There’s no immediate change that can be made right now that can effect positive change.”
As for the future of the cancelled World Cup race, Sutton seemed to think the UCI might be able to come up with a replacement venue, though he could offer no specifics. “I think they’re going to try to make something happen,” he said. “But that’s about all I know.”
As of Friday there had been no comment from the UCI.