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USA Pro Challenge CEO says race guaranteed through 2015

Shawn Hunter says the Colorado tour is ahead of budget in 2013 and will come back for at least the next two years

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Steamboat Springs, Colo. (VN) — Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Challenge, said Wednesday that the Colorado event, which is midway through its third year, was guaranteed through 2015.

“The race will be back next year, and again in 2015,” Hunter told VeloNews.

As chief marketing officer and president of AEG Sports, Hunter was instrumental in getting the Amgen Tour of California off the ground before moving on to work as president and CEO of the Deportivo Chivas professional soccer team. He took over at the USA Pro Challenge in February 2011, just six months before the inaugural event.

That inaugural year attracted the top three riders from the 2011 Tour de France — Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, and Frank Schleck — and drew massive crowds along its mountainous route.

For the second time in three years, the race has drawn the Tour de France winner, this time in the form of Chris Froome (Sky), as well as the Tour’s green jersey winner, and Wednesday’s stage winner in Steamboat Springs, Peter Sagan of Cannondale.

Rick Schaden, chairman of Consumer Capital Partners, which founded fast-food chains Quiznos and Smashburger, owns the USA Pro Challenge along with his father, Richard Schaden. Smashburger is a major sponsor of the event, its logo appearing on the yellow race leader’s jersey.

The seven-stage race is believed to cost approximately $10 million per year to run.

“When I took over in February 2011, we wrote a five-year business plan. And we’re on plan. We will make our third-year budget,” Hunter said. “As I’ve said before, we are a not-for-profit for our first five years. Selling sponsorship and international TV rights are our biggest revenue streams, and these take time. Something like this takes patience and a unique financial commitment, and fortunately we have that from the Schaden family. And that’s what it takes for an event like this, whether it’s from the Anschutz family [owners of the Amgen Tour of California] or the Miller family [owners of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah]. Without them we wouldn’t have these major stage races.

“If this event was funded by the public, we wouldn’t be here today. We’re on pace, and knock on wood, we might even break even in year four, which would be one year ahead of our five-year business plan. This is similar to what we did with the Tour of California, which is now in its eighth year.”

One thing that sets the USA Pro Challenge apart from other events is that it owns its own framework — the start- and finish-line gantries, announcing stages, signage, and festival infrastructure. And though that meant a significant initial investment in capital expenditures, Hunter said he has been able to amortize that expense over many years.

“We’ve been able to grow revenue, and stabilize expenses,” Hunter said. “We won’t be profitable, but we’ll actually beat our projected budget for 2013, which we locked into in December 2012, and that is really positive, given what an unusual year 2012 was for the sport. We continue to grow the top line, we’ve stabilized expenses, and we continue to add sponsors — we added $1.4 million in new sponsorship year over year from 2012 to 2013. We’re proud of that. It’s a sign that people believe in the sport of cycling.”

Hunter added that the format of using host cities as both finishes and starts the following day, seems to be popular with riders, fans, and the host cities themselves. This year Aspen, Breckenridge, and Steamboat Springs are all hosting starts and finishes — as well as Vail, which plays host to the stage 5 time trial. Stage 6 will start in Loveland and finish in nearby Fort Collins, and both communities were part of a single, region-wide effort to attract the race.

“Based on the feedback from riders and fans in the past, a finish and start in the same city is a win-win for everyone,” Hunter said. “In 2011, Steamboat was the only community that had a finish and a start in the same place, it had a big economic impact, and we had a lot of support from the communities.”