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GOLDEN, Colorado (VN) – After four stages, and one dominant performance by Chloe Dygert Owen, the Colorado Classic wrapped up in Denver on Sunday. In its first year as a women’s-only race, the Classic became the only race in North America to feature this format. We spoke with Lucy Diaz, the COO of RPM Events Group which owns and operates the Colorado Classic, as well as the event’s competition director, Sean Petty, to assess the race’s performance after its inaugural edition.
In Diaz’s first year as COO—she previously worked in sales and marketing for RPM—the Colorado Classic signed a two-year title sponsorship deal with VF Corporation, the parent company for outdoor brands including The North Face, Smartwool, and Altra. (VF has moved or is currently moving its many brands to its new world headquarters in Denver.)
The sponsorship was critical to allowing the Classic to move the needle on women’s sports by offering a $75,000 prize purse, a sum much greater than required for a UCI 2.1 event, and one that was $5,000 more than awarded to the men’s peloton last year.
In Diaz’s opinion, part of the reason why RPM was able to secure the sponsor is that the Classic is more than a bike race.
“This event has purpose. This event has a future vision,” Diaz told VeloNews. “A future vision that is aligned with what, in this instance, VF was looking for. This event creates an opportunity for them to really bring their brands together and to rally around.
“It’s almost like an employee engagement activity almost, but it’s above and beyond the employee and the brand alignment perspective. It’s really the alignment with the cause, and our vision and our focus is creating a platform—what can we do as an event to affect change within the industry?”
What change are they looking to make? Diaz said that the pieces could not have aligned better, in terms of promoting women’s equality. Diaz cites the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s second consecutive victory at this summer’s World Cup as serendipitous, and one that perfectly dovetails with what the Colorado Classic is working towards.
“We knew that the women’s World Cup was coming up this summer, but could we have perceived the impact and the conversation and the media attention that would have drawn or would have been drummed up based around the equal pay conversation?” Diaz wondered.
Diaz confirmed the race would return next year as a women’s-only event. However, she was unable to say whether the large prize purse would be back.
Adding more international women’s teams
The prize purse generated headlines this year. Yet the race did not attract many of the sport’s top stars and international teams, with marquee teams such as Trek-Segafredo, Team Sunweb, and Boels-Dolmans all passing on the event. German squad Canyon-SRAM was the sole squad ranked inside the UCI Women’s WorldTour’s top-10 rankings in attendance.
Instead, the Colorado Classic boasted a mixture of regional, local, and national pro teams for its first year. The field featured a wide spectrum in experience and talent, from budding professionals to seasoned international veterans. That wide spread in skill-level gave an opportunity to up-and-coming riders to take part in a race with international recognition and coverage.
The dearth of Women’s WorldTour heavy hitters was rooted in the pre-Olympic cycle and the chase for UCI points. National federations are putting immense pressure upon riders to gain UCI points, since the UCI Nations ranking determines how many riders a country can field at Tokyo 2020.
This year the Colorado Classic occurred at the same time as the Women’s WorldTour Ladies Tour of Norway. So while the Colorado Classic offered more prize money, Norway offered more UCI points, which took precedence this year.
“It’s a difficult time to get teams from Europe because of the number of consecutive Women’s WorldTour races in August, and we’re about a month out from the world championships,” Petty said. “It’s a long trip [to Colorado] and you’re racing an attitude, so there are a lot of factors that come into that.”
Petty is confident that he will be able to attract the teams he wants in the future, and still keep a balance by providing opportunities for lower-level programs. He also explained how the process of having a women’s-only event came together late; the official announcement came in December, and many teams had already set their programs for the 2019 season by then. As soon as this year’s race ended, RPM began talking with teams about the 2020 race.
While the Colorado Classic has considered moving the race to May in the future, slotting it in as a precursor to the WorldTour-level Amgen Tour of California, and allowing for a single, larger block of races—which could attract more European-based teams—Diaz and Petty confirmed the race will keep its mid- to late-August time slot next year.
The Colorado Classic has a purpose unlike many other races, and also currently boasts the financial backing. The question remains—is that enough for long-term survival? Management is hopeful, and multiple sources told VeloNews that the race will, in fact, be back for 2020.