UPDATE: USA Pro Cycling Challenge 2012: A Q&A with COO Brian Farris



Following Tuesday's formal announcement of the host cities for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a Colorado Cycling Holiday to correspond with annual race dates, recognizing the week as an "honorary holiday."

From today's press release:

"The USA Pro Challenge was an event that shined an international spotlight on Colorado,” said Gov. Hickenlooper. “Any expectations we had for success were surpassed ten-fold. We want race week each August to be known as Colorado Cycling Holiday to attract visitors from all over the world and to celebrate Colorado, good health and cycling."

And for anyone not yet clued into the host cities announced Tuesday, here they are:


——- ORIGINAL POST, 1:40 P.M., MONDAY, DEC. 12 ——-
As we and several other news outlets told you last Thursday, Colorado Springs is among the host cities for next year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge, running Aug. 20 through 26.

On Friday, Aug. 24, for the race's fifth stage, riders will depart from Breckenridge and finish in Colorado Springs.

Originally, the news was supposed to break via a live Internet broadcast at 5:15 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 13. When it was leaked early, organizers regrouped. We spoke with one of them, USA Pro Cycling Challenge COO Brian Farris, last Friday.

Below, he discusses the criteria for the host cities, some changes in this upcoming year's race and what the event continues to mean for the state of Colorado.

(Note: That Tuesday broadcast will still occur, in celebration of the host cities.)

Indy: How many cities applied this year?

Farris: We had 24 communities apply. Twelve were selected to be part of the 2012 race.

Indy: How long did this decision process take?

Farris: The host city bids were all due at the end of October. We took up until now to make that decision.

Indy: Who was on the team that decided?

Farris: It’s made up of our race organization as well as Medalist Sports, who is our partner in putting the race on.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge COO Brian Farris says that the large crowds of fans are what will draw riders back to the state again to compete.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • USA Pro Cycling Challenge COO Brian Farris says that the large crowds of fans are what will draw riders back to the state again to compete.

Indy: How many people does that actually include that had an input on this?

Farris: Probably about half a dozen core people that helped vet out each one of the proposals and make the determination.

Indy: In a Velo News article, you were quoted on the main factors of criteria being travel distance for spectators and athletes and wanting to make sure there was “continuity”?

Farris: It is. We look at the individual cities and as we evaluate those cities, we want them to bring something fresh and new and exciting to the race. Once we’ve determined between the cities, then we have to place them together and make sure that they fit in a logical order. So it’s really a combination of the both: the merits of the individual towns — which they all do very well at — as well as stitching together a series of cities that makes sense and is easy for the fans to experience the race, and convenient for the athletes so they’re not on buses too long.

Indy: I read this has been upgraded to a 2.HC, “the highest level next to the Tour de France.” Can you explain that?

Farris: So the Tour de France has been around for over 100 years. It is one of only three grand tours in the world. The next highest classification, which is practically the only classification you can get, is a 2.HC. What that really represents is an acknowledgement from the cycling community and UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] of the event that we had here, and that Colorado supported last year.

Indy: So what was last year’s classification?

Farris: It was a 2.1 race last year, which for a first year event is really a precedent.

Indy: Routes aren’t yet set between the host cities, but is this year’s course expected to be equally or more difficult?

Farris: No matter where we pick, we’re always at the highest altitude. This is the highest level of racing from that standpoint. We’ve not picked the routes, so it’s a little hard to comment specifically on the particular difficulties, but the altitude and the duration of the climbs are something that test the athletes in ways they aren’t tested in other races. It really creates a compelling sport and competition.

Indy: You’re going to the Four Corners area this year to start, and [USA Pro Cycling Challenge CEO] Shawn Hunter was quoted as calling this a “virtual postcard for the state.” Getting back to which communities were chosen, was that one goal, to be inclusive and try to reach all corners of the state?

Farris: We’re very fortunate to be in Colorado and we’d like this race to help explore the different aspects of this state. By being in Four Corners, we get to expose our fans watching on television nationally and around the world to even more of what Colorado has to offer.

Indy: Do you take into account rider feedback from last year’s course as you design this one?

The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge featured a prologue (time trial) in Colorado Springs, in which riders rode on very expensive, aerodynamic bikes.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge featured a prologue (time trial) in Colorado Springs, in which riders rode on very expensive, aerodynamic bikes.

Farris: Both from a competition standpoint and a riders standpoint, those are key factors. Not only in the host city, but also as we move forward and select a route. They’re a very important constituency as we put that route together.

Indy: Did everyone who raced last year get a survey? Or is it voluntary? Or did you just approach a few for feedback?

Farris: Through Medalist Sports, we have great connections with athletes and the directors of the teams who raced and who managed those teams. Through those conversations we’ve assembled a good deal of feedback, almost all of it very positive about the race and taking into account any suggestions they have in terms of building the route.

Indy: A press release said, “See if Levi Leipheimer will defend his title as winner of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.” How do we know that he will come out and that we might get the winning Tour de France riders again? Would some go to the Vuelta a España this year?

Farris: Teams and riders are not selected. It’s a little premature for that selection to happen. The crowds that were generated that lined the course, the million spectators that were out there last year cheering for the athletes as they climbed the 12,000-foot peaks, is the biggest postcard for those athletes to want to come back. They love performing in front of big crowds. And Colorado showed up last year, and we think that that’s going to go a long way to get the best athletes in the world back here this year.

Indy: If you’ve won a title, is it tradition to defend? Is that why we’d say Levi is definitely coming?

Farris: There’s no guarantees, but absolutely I think Levi expressed after the race last year that this is one he’s got circled on his calendar. So we really would look forward to seeing Levi race and defend his title.

Indy: So there’s only one time trial this year instead of two like last year. And no prologue. Is the prologue only in an inaugural event for a race?

Farris: As part of 2.1 classification last year, it stipulated that we needed to start with a prologue. Given the fact that we’re an 2.HC, we no longer have to do a prologue, and we chose to involve an extra city to be able to extend the race and involve another community and a whole other set of fans.

Indy: And 2012’s time trail is now on the last day in Denver, according to the release, "keeping fans holding their breath to the very end to see who will be awarded the overall victory." Why wouldn’t someone be able to clinch it earlier on?

Governor Hickenlooper was one of the many on hand to celebrate the victor at 2011s prologue.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Governor Hickenlooper was one of the many on hand to celebrate the victor at 2011's prologue.

Farris: A time trial is traditionally a place where a lot of time can be made up. And so irrespective of the various gaps that may exist going into the time trial, it’s always a critical performance for the athletes to be able to either retain or overtake the win. You only have to look back to last year’s Tour de France to see that Cadel Evans won the yellow at the time trial on the penultimate day of that race. And we’re looking for that kind of excitement as the race builds all the way through the week to that final day in Denver.

Indy: The Velo News article also noted the Levi secured the overall title in Vail last year with three stages remaining. To those new to the sport, maybe they didn’t realize at the time that the race was over in that regard.

Farris: As it turned out, the Vail day was critical to Levi’s success. However, every day offers a lot of opportunity, including time bonuses along the course. Even though that Vail time trial was so critical to Levi’s win, there were still opportunities throughout the rest of the week — either through a straight-out win or the time bonuses that could’ve been accrued to overtake that gap.

Indy: So it wasn’t a failure of course design to have someone clinch it on a middle stage? You can just say in retrospect that that day was critical?

Farris: There was plenty of opportunity for that lead to be absorbed, and it was really up to the teams and up to Levi and his Radio Shack team to defend every single day to make sure that those 11 seconds were retained. And really, as we learn more and more about the sport, there’s a heck of a battle going on in that peloton between the teams, trying to retain those small small increments of time that ultimately result in a win.

Indy: What happened with the way the news broke on 2012's host cities? Everyone was looking forward to an announcement on Dec. 13, and then the Denver Post put up a feature announcing the cities on Dec. 8. Was there a press embargo broken, or just a leak?

Farris: We’re a victim of our own success. We’re really popular. I guess there’s lots of people that need to get their vacation requests in for Aug. 20 through 26, and needed to have that turned in by the end of the week.
So we’re kinda taking that as a compliment, that so many people care so deeply about this race. And where it’s going. When you go out to the race, you realize it’s a great competition but it’s a great party for the state of Colorado. We’re going to take that spirit into Tuesday and celebrate our host cities and have a little bit of fun on Tuesday afternoon. I hope that everybody decides to look in on us. We’ll have some great athletes there and some legends of the sport that you’ll get access to by watching us online. We think it’ll be a great party, a great show, and we hope everybody joins us.
These cities have worked so hard to put together the proposals that they did. And they really deserve the spotlight on Tuesday — that’s what it is about. It’s about celebrating our new partnerships with them, renewing our old friends like Colorado Springs and welcoming to the family the new host cities that will now forever be part of this race.

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