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Colorado Classic chairman: Race likely to return in 2018

Based on his early conversations with teams, cities, and fans, race chairman Ken Gart believes the Colorado Classic will return in 2018.

DENVER, Colorado (VN)—The immediate future of the Colorado Classic bicycle race hinges on feedback from host communities, teams, fans, and sponsors—and not on the race’s financial losses—said race chairman, Ken Gart. Based on his early conversations with these stakeholders, Gart believes the race will return in 2018.

“I feel like the fundamental concept of marrying a music festival to a bike race was successful” Gart said. “We heard this consistently from fans and sponsors.”

Gart, whose family also owns a stake in the event, said he expects the Colorado Classic to lose money in its first year. The four-day race included stages in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge, and Denver, and featured both a four-day men’s race and a two-day women’s event. Gart said his ownership group—which includes Walmart scion Ben Walton—has the capital to see the event through at least 2019.

“We have plenty of capital for year one. We probably have enough capital for years two and three,” Gart said. “It’s more about whether or not we believe in the concept going forward.”

Ken Gart, chairman of the Colorado Classic, believes the race will return in 2018. Photo credit: Fred Dreier

Gart declined to give the operating budget for the race and did not say the size of the losses he anticipated in year one. When asked to compare his event to the Tour of Utah, which has an annual budget of approximately $4 million to $4.5 million, and the old USA Pro Challenge, which had an operating budget of approximately $10 million, Gart said the Colorado Classic was closer to the Utah race.

“For the race budget we’re much closer to Utah,” Gart said. “When you add the cost of the music and the festival, it adds a lot more expense and expectations.”

Since the Colorado Classic’s inception Gart and his co-founder John Koff have touted the race’s innovative business model, which combines the Colorado Classic with the three-day Velorama Colorado music and arts festival in the River North neighborhood of Denver. The event features 22 different bands, including headliners Wilco and Death Cab for Cutie.

Tickets for the event cost $45 per day. Gart said early signs point to ticket sales of approximately 30,000.

Race director Jim Birrell said he expects the race to follow a similar format in 2018. “Four days, four circuits. I think, again, that’s the model that’s going to work in the U.S.,” Birrell said.

Traditionally, large bicycle races have relied on revenue solely from sponsorship sales and from local host communities. The business model poses a major challenge to organizers. Revenue from sponsorship and municipalities often pales in comparison to race operating costs, which include road closures, television production, and transportation, among other costs. The old USA Pro Challenge ceased operation after five years after mounting losses became too great for ownership.

By adding ticket sales from the Velorama festival, Koff and Gart believe the Colorado Classic can create a sustainable financial model. He hopes that revenue from the three sources—tickets sales, sponsors, and local governments and municipalities—eventually cover the costs.

“Our plan is to come back next year,” Gart said. “We want to tweak things to learn from our successes and failures.”