Portland, Oregon, one of the most cycling-friendly cities in the United States, may be hosting a one-day UCI road race in August 2015.
Found on the 2015 UCI America Tour calendar, between well-established events such as the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta, is the August 29 GP of Portland, a proposed 112-mile UCI 1.2 race through the city.
As first reported by The Oregonian in August, the event has made its way on to the UCI calendar, however sponsorship is still the factor that will determine whether or not it takes place.
Jack Toland, the event’s co-founder and operations manager, was involved with the launch of the renowned CoreStates US PRO Road Race Championship in Philadelphia, alongside Jerry Casale and Dave Chauner in 1984.
Toland, who moved to Portland in 1998, got together with Ian Hamilton, a former marketing executive at Nike, and Steve Karakas, a former media manager for USGA events, and formed NonBox Sports, LLC, each with one-third ownership share.
The NonBox trio brought on Ed Ellis, a corporate sales manager who oversaw the sponsorship for the Portland area’s most successful annual event, the Fred Meyer Challenge, as well as Fred Schreyer, corporate counsel, who once headed sports marketing at Nike.
Together they took their idea of a Portland race to the Oregon Sports Authority, to the Portland mayor’s office, and to John Miller, an executive at NBC Sports.
“They are all enthusiastic,” Toland told VeloNews.com. “We’re now trying to sell the race to sponsors. It’s been a bit of a daunting proposition. It will cost a few million dollars to put on. We have been diligent, in determining whether or not the budget is priced right. I believe the last time they did the one-day race in San Francisco, the budget was higher than $1.7 million, and that was in 2005.
“We’re are working with overall budget figures in the $1 to $2 million range,” Toland continued. “We’re finding now… it’s not easy to find a title sponsor, so we’re trying to look outside of Portland. We’ve been as far away as New York City, meeting with different sports marketing companies.”
Portland has a thriving cycling culture, and is home to brands such as Chris King Precision Components, Icebreaker, Rapha North America, and Castelli USA, as well as small frame builders like Vanilla, Argonaut, and Cielo.
The city and its surrounding area also has a thriving race community cultivated by the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA), an organization run independently of USA Cycling. The Portland-area cyclocross series, Cross Crusade, boasts some of the highest participation numbers of any recurring participant events in North America. The town of Bend, three hours away, has played host to national road and cyclocross championships in recent years.
Part of the GP of Portland’s plan includes a gran fondo on the closed road circuit that the pros will race on, as well as a concert on race day featuring a major regional act.
“The City of Portland has incredible self esteem about its cycling culture,” Toland said. “Portland is a place that deserves to have a world-class race.”
(Another Portland event, also held in August, currently goes by the name GP Portland; that event’s full name is “Magic: The Gathering, Grand Prix Portland,” and is tailored around a trading-card game that deals in wizardry and fantasy role-playing.)
The long-term plan for the bike race, Toland said, is to expand the franchise to additional North American cities in the next five years.
Toland said he views the WorldTour events in Quebec City and Montreal, managed by Serge Arsenault, as the model for one-day events in North America.
“I saw a story about Serge’s intentions for his events, and from the viewpoint of the sport of cycling in North America, he’s thinking the way we are thinking,” Toland said. ‘We will be focused on one-day races. We believe there is a market for it. We believe that there is an opportunity to get big sponsors worldwide to invest in the sport. We believe the sport has cleaned up — that it’s cleaner than it’s been as long as we have known it — and that there is a great opportunity for a single-day WorldTour race in the USA. It’s just laying there, waiting for somebody to come back to it.”
The event is currently on the UCI America Tour calendar as a UCI 1.2 event. Toland said that he’s spoken with Sean Petty and Micah Rice at USA Cycling, and was told the event can secure sponsorship by March 1, they can ask the UCI road commission to bump it up to a more prestigious 1.1 event.
“We’re not as enthusiastic about being 1.2 race, and with Colorado [the USA Pro Challenge] finishing before our race, and then Alberta, it makes sense that we would be 1.1, to attract WorldTour teams,” Toland said. “But first we need to secure financial backing. If you can’t cover your budget, you won’t have a sustainable event, and if we can’t make some kind of profit, we’re not interested. This is an entrepreneurial endeavor. We believe the sport is marketable.”