Durango Herald file photo
Philly does cheesesteaks. Hollywood makes movies. Florence, Italy, has some nice art.
Well, if you're in town this week, you already know what Durango does.
“Part of the reason Durango has a high profile for cycling events is because the community has taken ownership in them and is proud of them,” local cycling legend Ed Zink said.
And that, in a nutshell, is why the best cyclists in the world are here for the start of the second annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
This is far from the first big cycling event to wheel through town. Every year, 4,000 cyclists participate in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, which Zink co-founded in 1972 and directed for many years.
Inside the cycling community, Durango long has enjoyed a sterling reputation.
“We have as many world champions in mountain biking living in Durango as most nations have,” Zink said.
So local organizers thought Durango was a natural for the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge last year – the first Colorado pro stage race since the days of the Coors Classic and the Red Zinger Classic.
USA Pro cycling officials gave Durango high marks on its initial bid last year.
But the trouble was, it takes a long time to get from Durango to just about anywhere, especially on a bike. So the route skipped Durango in 2011.
But not in 2012.
This year, local organizers had a palpable sense that USA Pro officials really wanted their race to visit Durango, said Mary Monroe, who is co-chairwoman of the local organizing committee, along with Sherri Dugdale.
“I really feel they see the culture, the community, geographically the beauty and the talent of the people who live here,” Monroe said. “I think they thought, 'We cannot do this race without Durango and call it a statewide race.'”
Still, Monroe was thrilled when she became among the first to learn the race would start in her town.
“I think I probably still have the voicemail on my phone because I was so excited,” she said.
Durango was designated as The Grand Depart, the official start of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The long history of bike events here has left Durango with ample expertise, local organizers said.
“We have a trained population of volunteers,” Zink said. “If they show up and say, 'We want this to happen,' we've got hundreds of people who say, 'I know how to do that.'”
Those hundreds of people will be needed. In addition to the 60 people on the local organizing committee, some 600 volunteers will have pitched in before the race arrives, Monroe said.
Fort Lewis College, with its nationally renowned cycling program, provided a key element for organizers – housing.
Some athletes and hundreds of their support crew members will stay at the college's dorms in the days before the race. The college is making it happen even though students will start showing up for the fall semester just a day or two later, FLC athletic director Gary Hunter said.
“I expect I'll be stripping beds about five minutes after everybody goes,” Hunter said.
Everyone is working for the payoff, which extends beyond the 15-minute blur of color as the peleton passes through downtown and the college campus.
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge claimed an $83-million statewide economic impact in 2011. But organizers think the real effects will be harder to track.
The race will be televised worldwide, and cycling fans in some 180 countries will see Durango on center stage.
Other start/finish cities for 2012 include Montrose, Crested Butte/Mount Crested Butte, Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Colorado Springs, Golden, Boulder and Denver.
“There will be more media opportunity worldwide for people to follow this than probably anything that's ever happened in Durango,” Zink said.