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Thousands of fans looked to the steps of the Colorado state capitol last Wednesday morning as Gov. Bill Ritter, Lance Armstrong and representatives from Quiznos and USA Cycling announced their intention to hold a seven-day UCI stage race in the state next year. One man missing from the microphone, but not far away, was Medalist Sports managing partner Jim Birrell, half of the team responsible for the operations of the Tour of California, Georgia and Missouri.
Birrell, partner Chris Aronhalt and the Medalist team earlier this year assumed the same role for the Quiznos Pro Challenge that they have held for more than a decade at America’s premier stage races. “Medalist has been contracted to fulfill the operational arm of the Quiznos Pro Challenge,” said Birrell. “We’re pretty far along.”
Promoters have applied to the UCI for 2.1 status on the international calendar. This registration means that the event should attract top European teams following the Tour de France, while allowing U.S.-focused Continental teams to participate. “I think that we’ll see a 50-50 split between the big ProTour teams that have household names and American sponsor interest and certainly the best Pro Continental and Continental teams with a U.S. base,” said Birrell. Recent top-flight Medalist event participants include HTC-Columbia Liquigas-Doimo, Cervelo TestTeam, RadioShack and Garmin-Transitions.
The request for proposals Medalist distributed Wednesday is an invitation for cities across the state to register bids to host stage routes, starts and finishes. “From that, we’ll really start identifying the options. We’ve found several different options from a variety of different parts of the state, so the response from this RFP will help us narrow it down to what achieves our objectives.”
When asked about potential routes for the first-year event, Birrell said that the state’s numerous options are well known and far-ranging. “Anything from the Western Slope to here in the Front Range, south to Pueblo and Colorado Springs and hopefully down to the Four Corners.”
Specifically, the Amgen Tour of California race director mentioned a return to the classic Vail time trial course from Vail Village to East Vail. “One of the options is the legendary Vail time trial,” said Birrell. “It would be very symbolic to consider that, as there are times that haven’t been beat, so to bring this new generation of cyclists and compare the advancement of technology in the bikes and the condition of these athletes against the forefathers of the sport that were here in the ’70’s and ’80’s.”
While he would not speak to other specific routes, speculation on potential stages has been rampant since the Denver Post and VeloNews last week reported that the race announcement was imminent.
Former 7-Eleven team manager and current USAC chief operating officer Sean Petty hoped that the Quiznos route would visit, or at least rekindle memories of iconic Coors Classic stages. “Having been there when it was in its heyday, I have a real soft spot for Tour of the Moon and of course the Vail Village Criterium, which would be hard to bring back,” he said. “Going over Independence Pass, Boulder Park Criterium, Tivoli, all of those things, it would be nice to pay really homage to the Coors Classic. And they’re great courses and have great spectators.”
Coors Classic director Michael Aisner, who was involved in the early feasibility studies for the Quiznos event, spoke to VeloNews before the event and pointed to communities including Estes Park, Aspen and Fort Collins as potential sites.
Regardless of the host communities and the nod to the historical stages, Birrell confirmed that the Quiznos Pro Challenge will include terrain for the sprinters, roleurs and mountain goats. “I see big circuits, great point-to-points with great climbs in between. We want to design a course that will have the appetite to attract all disciplines from sprinters to climbers to time trialists,” he said. “We can obviously focus everything into the mountains, but if we want to get Tyler (Farrar) or (Mark) Cavendish or (Thor) Hushovd, any of those sprinters here, we have to build something that will accommodate them.”
Between now and late September, the Medalist team will work to confirm start/finish towns and routes, a process that Birrell said they will pursue in a manner that will create win-win situations for all involved parties. “If we can design something that meets everyone’s needs, then everybody wins,” he said. Birrell expected a route announcement at the Interbike tradeshow in Las Vegas in September and to begin the permitting process with the Colorado Department of Transportation and counties by December.