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Women’s only race may be key to Colorado Classic’s financial future

The Colorado Classic's aim to boost women's cycling is a noble goal, but it also could secure the financial future of the race.

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Colorado Classic organizers made waves this week with news that their 2019 event will be a women’s only race. The move could potentially boost women’s cycling and attract more fans. From a practical standpoint, the move might give the race financial security it needs to survive, something rare in domestic cycling these days.

“I think this year we have a shot of breaking even. If we can do that, that will be a game changer,” Ken Gart, chairman of race organizer RPM Events Group, told VeloNews this week.

It’s been a tough year for domestic road racing, with both teams and events folding as 2018 winds down. The Colorado Classic, like most of the top-tier road races in North America, did not turn a profit in 2018, its second year of existence, but organizers did see a positive trend. As Gart put it, “We cut our losses dramatically from year one to year two.”

In shifting to a women’s only event, Colorado Classic organizers see a roadmap to stability in an otherwise challenging financial climate. While costs for the combined 2019 event were in the low seven figures, the expectation is that a single race for the women could cost less than a million dollars — even while being among the “best-supported” women’s races in the world.

Organizers are applying for UCI status in 2019, with race director Sean Petty telling VeloNews that the Colorado Classic is aiming as high as a UCI 2.1 classification. Beyond the increased prize purse, the race will pay teams stipends to cover travel expenses. According to Gart, without a men’s race, the event can cover those costs with a similar level of sponsorship cash to what it received in 2018.

“We’re hoping to keep the financial support more of the sponsors than the investors. If we can do that, maybe even increase it, maybe the thing can break even in year one. Maybe,” Gart said.

A showcase for women’s cycling

Colorado Classic
The 2018 Colorado Classic women’s race ended with two circuit races in downtown Denver. Photo: Gruber Images (File).

Beyond the balance sheet, RPM sees an opportunity to give women’s racing a boost. If the race attains 2.1 status, the Colorado Classic would be the second-highest ranked women’s stage race in the country in 2019, behind the Amgen Tour of California.

A conversation with EF Education First manager Jonathan Vaughters helped bring about the decision to go women’s only.

“We started talking about the ability to have an impact on women’s cycling and realized that not doing a men’s race is going to have no negative impact on him or men’s cycling generally. If he goes from 85 races to 84, it’s not going to have much of an impact on him,” Gart said.

The mission to support women’s cycling might also open doors for more sponsorship.

“That’s where we started to think, if we can carry over sponsor support, and if the sponsors love what we are doing and switch this to women’s only, maybe we can have a bit of a ‘Billie Jean King moment,’ where she showcased tennis for women in America, we can showcase cycling for women in America,” Gart added.

That noble goal could help retain sponsors or possibly even motivate them to up their commitments. Even though the men’s race attracted familiar pro riders over the years, such as Taylor Phinney, Brent Bookwalter, and Rigoberto Uran, organizers expect partners will get behind the women’s event.

“The hope is that our sponsor commitments will increase, and I think they will,” Gart said. “I think the cause is much more inspirational.”

With the dual focus of boosting women’s racing and financial stability setting the tone, organizers still have a great deal of work ahead. This week’s announcement addressed the shift to a women’s only race, but most of the finer points of the event remain unknown. The route and details on the Velorama festival that has run concurrently with the race for the past two seasons have yet to be announced. Petty says that was by design, to focus media attention on the women’s event.

Organizers still must iron out race specifics, confirm sponsors, and coordinate with the state of Colorado. Both the outgoing and upcoming governors were present for this week’s announcement, but with a change in the administration following November’s election, Gart estimated that it would be another two months before he had a clearer picture of what state involvement would look like.

In the meantime, Petty and his team will be hard at work putting the race together. They have their work cut out for them in designing an event that will attract big names — the August 22 to 25 window puts the event in the heart of a packed stretch of racing on the international calendar. The Ladies Tour of Norway runs at the same time, followed shortly by the GP Plouay and then the Boels Ladies Tour, all three of them WorldTour races.

“It’s a very busy time, with a lot of quality racing in Europe, and a month out from worlds it will be difficult to get teams to fly over here for a four-day race. A lot of headwinds, no doubt,” Petty said.

“But I think we’ll prove ourselves this year in terms of the quality of the event, the online live stream, the exposure that we hope to bring to this. We might surprise ourselves. The main thing is that we are going to have a great race.”