USA Pro gets a professional TV deal

Colorado’s weeklong cycling race signs on with NBC and NBC Sports

One year ago, the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge started in downtown Salida. This year, Stage 1 of Colorado’s weeklong professional stage race will start in Durango. Enlarge photo

Nathan Bilow/Associated Press file photo

One year ago, the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge started in downtown Salida. This year, Stage 1 of Colorado’s weeklong professional stage race will start in Durango.

With a spot on the schedule wedged between the Tour de France and world championships, the second edition of the USA Pro Challenge promises to bring some of the world’s top cyclists back to U.S. soil this August.

Fans of the sport won’t have to travel to Colorado to see them, either.

The stage race through the Rocky Mountains will be carried live by NBC and NBC Sports Network as part of an extension of a broadcast partnership through 2014. There will be more than 29 hours of race coverage beginning Aug. 20 in Durango and covering the seven days of the event.

That includes two hours each of the final two days on NBC.

“It’s the home to cycling in America and key to us building a big, incredible race,” USA Pro Challenge chief executive officer Shawn Hunter told The Associated Press. “We think our new deal, which is a multiyear deal, we think it’s the most comprehensive coverage for any race in the U.S.”

The 683-mile route will start in Durango and will take the riders through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Rocky Mountains. They’ll reach higher altitudes than they’ve ever climbed and will endure three mountain passes each exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation.

Last year’s inaugural race attracted more than a million spectators over the course of the weeklong race, rivaling the Tour of California as the preeminent American stage race.

“It was pretty magical last August, and I just think it’ll continue to get bigger and bigger. The athletes love coming to America and seeing the big crowds and eating in nice restaurants and staying in nice hotels,” Hunter said. “It’s a good combination, good timing. We sit very nicely on the calendar between the Tour and the world championships.”

Especially in an Olympic year.

The Tour de France will end with the largely ceremonial ride down the Champs-Élysées on July 22, and many of the riders will head straight to London for the Summer Games, where the road race is scheduled for July 28 and will finish near Buckingham Palace.

The USA Pro Challenge comes less than a month later, with the road world championships scheduled for mid-September in Limburg, Netherlands.

NBC again will have coverage of the Tour de France – anchored by the unmistakable voices of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett – and, of course, also has coverage of the London Olympics.

The USA Pro Challenge will be advertised extensively throughout both events.

“The NBC Sports Group’s extended partnership with USA Pro Challenge demonstrates how much we believe in the sport.” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC and NBC Sports Network.

“The USA Pro Challenge is a major event in the U.S., and we are excited to once again air daily live coverage on NBC Sports Network in addition to the four hours on NBC.”

Hunter said invitations already have been extended for the stage race, and he expects all the top teams competing for the yellow jersey this summer to take the starting line.

The official start list should be announced in the next couple of weeks.

One of the riders expected to compete is George Hincapie, the five-time Olympian for BMC Racing Team, who announced his intention to retire after the 2012 season. Hincapie will attempt to set the record by riding in his 17th Tour de France next month, then could bid the sport of cycling his competitive farewell with the USA Pro Challenge, where he won a stage last summer.

“To have him compete again is a big plus for us. It was so exciting last year to take the queen stage,” Hunter said. “You couldn’t have scripted it any better. It was a great day from start to finish.”

American rider and Colorado-based cyclist Tom Danielson, who was the event’s poster boy its first season, also is expected to ride. Danielson, as does Hunter, has ties to the Stage 1 area. Danielson rode for Fort Lewis College in Durango, while Hunter’s dad, Gary Hunter, is the FLC athletic director.

American rider Levi Leipheimer captured the leader’s yellow jersey in Stage 3 and wound up carrying it all the way to the finishing line on the streets of Denver last year.

He’s expected back with his new team, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, to defend his title.

“We were certainly pleased with the support we got from every direction last year, from the community to the spectators to the sponsors. We certainly felt like an event in Colorado had all the ingredients to be successful,” Hunter said. “It’s a race that should always attract the top riders in the sport.”

The Durango Herald contributed to this report.

Former Fort Lewis College cyclist Tom Danielson was the poster boy for last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Danielson, based in Boulder, again is expected to ride in this year’s stage race. Enlarge photo

Dale Strode/Durango Herald file photo

Former Fort Lewis College cyclist Tom Danielson was the poster boy for last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Danielson, based in Boulder, again is expected to ride in this year’s stage race.