Prologue: fun race, but closures a pain
Westside just a pass-through for first-time cycling event; that could change next year
The Prologue bicycle event Aug. 22, which kicked off the first-time, seven-day USA Pro Cycling Challenge, may not have been an immediate boon to the Westside but the impression afterward seemed to be that it was good for Colorado Springs as a whole and should prove beneficial in the long run.
And the impression of the crowds that came to watch? Probably a sense of fun and appreciation of talent.
A 5.2-mile time trial that routed 130 world-class racers one at a time between the Garden of the Gods and the downtown, the Prologue drew an estimated 100,000 spectators, according to event spokesperson Christina Brodsly. Plenty of these were on the Westside, bunched together especially at the start in the Garden of the Gods and at key turns along the route that overall used Ridge Road, Pikes Peak Avenue, 30th Street and Colorado Avenue. Many enthusiasts arrived on bicycles themselves (which they trustingly left lying near the race route). They clapped, cheered and set off bells or noisemakers as riders in colorful spandex uniforms whipped by at speeds up to 50 mph.
The Prologue winner was German rider Patrick Gretsch of the HTC-Highroad team. His time of 8 minutes and 27 seconds on the mostly downhill course represented an average speed of 39 mph, Brodsly said. Others weren't far behind, with barely 20 seconds separating the top 25 riders.
In any case, they didn't have long to dwell on the event, because Stage 1 of the Challenge was the next day in Salida. The race continues throughout this week in different Colorado mountain towns and will conclude Sunday, Aug. 28 in Denver.
“From our point of view it was beyond successful,” Brodsly said, when asked how she felt the Prologue came off. “We couldn't have asked for more. People were raving about it. The crowds definitely delivered.” She added that the chances are “very good” of the Challenge occurring again next year and the Prologue returning to the Springs. “I think they [the race organizers] saw the enthusiasm and love of cycling here.”
The Challenge has clearly attracted the attention of the world's top cyclists, with five past world champions and the first three Tour de France placers participating.
The Prologue's downside was that the closed-off streets basically paralyzed older Westside traffic and businesses near the avenue for about five hours. Some shops closed, and random checks of those that were open brought reports of sales downturns (except at hotels, which were all full, according to a statement from Mayor Steve Bach) and few event attendees buying anything.
It also became evident that Prologue organizers - although they had talked beforehand with some Westside entrepreneurs, according to Brodsly - had not worked specifically with Old Colorado City's two business-representing entities. Also, amongst a bevy of pre-race promotional festivities, none occurred in Old Town. Asked about this situation, Brodsly expressed some surprise: “Downtown businesses had a great response to the race day and the weekend leading up to the Prologue,” she reported. However, she pledged that if the event were to happen again, “we would definitely involve them more in the planning.”
Nelson Roseland, president of the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group, was philosophical about the day's outcome. “When you have folks that come down for a particular event like this, even if they didn't shop here on the day of, hopefully they will come back to stores they didn't know existed before,” he commented. As for a future Prologue, “I'm hopeful that if they repeat this they can hook up with folks earlier, so we can get some of the pre-events in the [Old Colorado City Historic] district instead of just closures.”
Bernideen Canfield, director of the Historic District Merchants of Old Colorado City, enjoyed the spectacle itself - “I've never seen bikes go that fast in my life” and believes the route through the Westside was “the perfect layout for that type of event” - but pointed out that retail store owners “feel we are still in a recession and it killed our businesses for the day.” Still, she said, “it's good for the city, probably, and we'll have to look beyond our own thing.”
The event went off without incident. Hay bales and an ambulance stood ready at the most potentially dangerous spot - a 90-degree downhill turn from Ridge Road to Pikes Peak Avenue - but riders navigated it without any crashes.
There were two event-related emergency calls, both of them at the Garden of the Gods, which involved spectators climbing on the rocks. Only one of them ended with a rescue, and that one appeared to have been a “publicity stunt,” according to Lt. Marvin Adams of Fire Station 5. A man wearing a yellow jersey and somehow packing a bicycle had made his way to the top of the prominent Gray Rock, evidently in hopes of being singled out by the TV helicopter hovering overhead. It took three hours for the high-angle rescue by rock-climb-trained crews from Fire Station 5 and the Cheyenne area's Station 13, and afterward Yellow Jersey received misdemeanor citations from police because he was climbing without appropriate gear and without a partner, Adams said.
Because of the street closures, particularly Colorado Avenue, the Fire Department had worked out a plan to ensure coverage. The Fire Station 3 and 5 trucks were parked on the streets next to their respective buildings so they could head out on calls north of the avenue without disrupting the race. On the south side of the avenue, a truck from Fire Station 1 (downtown) was deployed, based from the Gold Hill Police Substation, according to a Fire Station 1 spokesperson.
A sentimental race favorite was Danny Pate, who grew up in the Colorado Springs area. Although he finished 11th in the time trial, 11 seconds behind Gretsch, he received the special jersey for “most aggressive” rider. He told Pro Cycling Challenge writer Nicole Okoneski, “It was cool. I thought there was a pretty good turnout starting in the Garden of the Gods. They picked a great course and the fact that they shut down Colorado [Avenue] shows the commitment to the race... Hopefully the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will come back to Colorado Springs.”
Westside Pioneer article