It started with an idea and turned into so much more.
With the USA Pro Challenge bike race ready to rip through Windsor and across northern Colorado on Saturday, event organizers are breathing a collective sigh of relief — with a side of nervous anticipation — as thousands of people prepare to pack area streets. With millions around the world expected to watch one of cycling’s premier events, officials know the event will put the region in the spotlight, and they’re realizing how far things have come in an effort to showcase the best of Windsor, Loveland, Estes Park and Fort Collins.
To say it’s been a learning process would be an understatement.
The northern Colorado stage of the seven-day race is unique and has been from the start. Whereas the other stages are contained to a city or two in a smaller circuit-type loop, stage six spans 115 miles across four communities.
While other parts of the race cruise through isolated roads near Aspen or Steamboat Springs, the stage that kicks off in Windsor will paralyze state highways, city streets and the typically-packed Big Thompson Canyon.
And as event organizers are quick to point out, other jurisdictions use the race to highlight their individual community. Saturday’s race, though, highlights a region — a fast-growing, sought after destination — many around the country have likely heard of but will be able to see for themselves on NBC.
“I think we all came together on the same page knowing this was going to elevate our visibility on a national stage,” said Katy Schneider, who has actively helped plan the race as the director of marketing for Visit Fort Collins. “That’s not an exaggeration. Truthfully, we all have our own individual events but from a regional perspective this is a big deal.”
Wine Festival, farmers market add to race day festivities
Winning the bid was just the first step for Windsor and the other groups involved in vying for a coveted spot on the route. Organizers had been watching the race grow from the beginning three years ago and knew it would be boon for the area. And in Windsor, planners have done everything possible to keep people in the area long past when the peloton hits the sprint race at 5th and Main streets before peeling off through residential areas and rolling toward Loveland.
“It certainly has been a learning experience throughout the process,” said Amy Porter, Windsor’s special events coordinator. She said that from planning the ancillary Pro Challenge events such as the DDA’s Wheels ‘N’ Deals bike giveaway offer, Friday night’s bike kickoff party at Boardwalk Park and Saturday’s farmers market, the weekend will be packed with events — marking the grand finale of summer festivities in Windsor.
“We knew it was huge, and that’s why we chose to do it,” Porter said. “That’s why we wanted to do it.”
In addition to the bike race, Saturday also is the Second-annual Front Range Wine Festival at Main Park in Windsor. Event organizer Tim Bowers said that after an “extremely successful” first year, they’re hoping to draw on the influx of people already in town for the bike race. He said they’re anticipating about 2,000 people will pack the park, which for the day will host about 21 different wineries, 25 vendors and a handful of food vendors.
Ticket information is available online at frontrangewinefestival.com. Additional tickets will be available for $35 at the wine festival admission gate beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday and lasting into the evening.
“It’s just a nice, relaxed event,” Bowers said. “Have some food, bring some friends and a blanket, buy a bottle of wine and hang out under a tree.”
Public safety a priority all weekend
Police Chief John Michaels stressed that the town has been working extensively over the past year in preparation for everything slated for Saturday, but he said it’s still “impossible to gauge” how many people will pack downtown and flood area parks and roads in the hours surrounding the race.
After seemingly endless meetings, he said his department has a plan to keep road closures to a minimum, though anyone in the area should expect delays. They’ll have more than 20 officers — nearly the entire force — and dozens of volunteers helping with road closures, namely Colo. 392/Main Street in the hour surrounding the 11:35 a.m. race start. Residential streets winding south toward Crossroads Boulevard will also be impacted around that time.
“This is a big event that will be coming through,” Michaels said. “At times the majority of town will kind of be cut in half.”
As of Wednesday, Porter said more than 800 people have signed up to help with all of stage six including about 140 who picked Windsor as their volunteer community of choice.
Having a community divided also adds logistical challenges for emergency crews with Windsor Severance Fire Rescue. Todd Vess, department spokesman, said two extra two trucks will be staffed and crews will be working with Fort Collins and Loveland throughout the day. On a normal Saturday, the department staffs a minimum of about 10 people at all times, he said. Twenty-two are scheduled to be on-duty Saturday. Vess said the USA Pro Challenge will reimburse the department for extra labor.
As for the town being split, he said it’s not unprecedented — every year the Harvest Festival Parade temporarily cuts the town in half. The challenge this year will be managing the sheer volume of people.
“It’s a bigger area,” he said. “We’re just making sure we’ve got that staffing and extra apparatus. We’ve got it pretty well handled. It’s kind of just another day for us, and we’re preparing as best we can for it.”
Color coding community, planning for the future
With Saturday’s race marking the culmination of seemingly endless hours of planning — from routes to how many traffic cones will be needed and who is bringing ice for the beer, Schneider said it will be great to watch it all come to fruition.
As part of the Northern Colorado Experience — another component to the whole weekend — race attendees are encouraged to wear certain colors to showcase their community. Windsor’s color is blue, Fort Collins’ is yellow, Estes Park’s is red and Loveland’s is green — all coinciding with a cyclist’s success in a race.
The goal, Schneider said, is to create a swirl of color, especially at the finishing festival in Fort Collins, set to takeover downtown around 3 p.m.
Regardless of how much success stems from the weekend, she said the whole process has paved the way for planning other events on such a massive scale.
Whether the race makes a return next year, well that’s up to Pro Challenge organizers. But in the meantime, there are plenty of other major projects that she said the communities can team up and take on — together.
“We have all learned a lot,” she said. “We did not have a template. We’re creating a template as we go for other events to happen like this. It’s been a really great collaborative process with everyone involved. We really came together.”