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Pro Challenge organizer denies city told to expect 25K

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Crowd estimates of 20,000 to 25,000 for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge were intended for public safety planning purposes only, said Jim Birrell, owner of Medalist Sports, which managed operations and logistics for the bicycle race in August.

“It's all for public safety,” Birrell said. “We're 30 years in the business. We don't give out estimates on what we think the crowds will be like.”

For the sake of safety, their attitude is to plan for the worst, hope for the best, Birrell said.

Birrell was responding to public criticisms from Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc that the Pro Challenge had exaggerated the numbers of visitors expected for the host cities of the 683-mile race, which began Aug. 20 in Durango and finished Aug. 26 in Denver.

Birrell said local communities would know “their markets better than we do. We're based in Georgia,” Birrell said. “Obviously, Denver is going to have more people than Gunnison.”

Durango officials decided to pass on bidding to host a stage of the race again in 2013 after the actual turnout of spectators here was estimated at 13,000 on the race day.

Another local criticism is that Pro Cycling concentrated its advertising for the race in Denver and the Front Range and not in the metropolitan areas closest to Durango, such as Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Birrell said there was an effort to market the race in places such as Albuquerque, Texas and Arizona, which typically provide the most visitors to the Four Corners, but he could not speak specifically because marketing and advertising were not his responsibilities.

Despite criticisms, Birrell said the Pro Challenge loved staging the race here.

”You could not ask for a better setting, backdrop,” Birrell said. “All the race teams enjoyed staying at Fort Lewis College.”

He said the host cities for the 2013 race should be announced sometime before the end of the year.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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