By Sue George
The popularity of multi-day off-road stage racing is on the rise, with events in Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, South Africa, France, Austria and Italy, just to name a few. Soon the United States may be able to add to the list. Planning is underway for a new event in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
"We've been talking about it for 18 months. We're far along in the planning work," said Michael McCormack, Director of Bigfoot Productions, the same company that hosts the Mountain States Cup Events in and near Colorado. "We're in Colorado and the whole state is a destination in mountain biking. There are amazing trails with unbelievable access."
A first edition of the race is possible for 2008 or 2009, but whether it happens at all hinges on winning the approval of land managers and the local trail user community.
"To operate from the position of a done deal is counterproductive," said McCormack about trail access. Referring to the land managers, he added, "They hold the keys."
"There are amazing trails with unbelievable access. We don't have a lot of user conflict like the West Coast has. It's a let's get along kind of dynamic. Here in Breckenridge where I live, every trail group is recognized. Mountain bikers are the largest perhaps."
MeCormack explained that some portions of the trail are endangered when it comes to mountain bike access - largely because mountain bikers were not around when many of the trails were created in the 1970s and some of the language used to define or protect endangered areas therefore does not explicitly consider bikes.
McCormack is planning an approach to the race very different from that of the Mountain States Cup (MSC). "It will be small, unlike most of our other events which are participation based. Most events are participation based or sponsorship based. The MSC has always relied on participation numbers. The Colorado epic can't have big numbers because the impact on other user groups would be inflammatory."
"What we'd like to do is stay small, keep our costs down and keep participation to a size that the trail network can sustain and that is not alarming to other [user] groups. We think we can make it work."
"We're probably not going to subscribe to the model like the TransRockies where there are a lot of a la cart options," said McCormack who envisions that racers will do a lot of self-supporting between stages. "We think we can provide people with the great information on how to get around within the local community - things like where they can get organic coffee, where they go can go to get Torx bolts for their rotors, where to get the best burrito, etc. We want people to have the info they will need."
A few route options are under consideration but at least one will have to win approval by the forest service in order for the race to happen. McCormack would like to change up the route every year to keep it interesting. He's looking at five days of cross country riding.
Getting approval for a race can be a long process. "There are a lot of race promoters out there running races and not everyone is well organized and accountable. One bad promoter out of 100 good ones can really color a land manager's perspective. We battle that perception at every venue and every race. Everyone in our company has put in their time on advocacy over the years and we are brothers in arms although we're not always looked at that way."
So how does a promoter reduce potential user conflict? Plans for the Colorado epic include staging the race Monday through Friday and early morning starts - before many other users are out and about and in time to beat the afternoon thunderstorms. "Some of the terrain we'd like to race is popular and sees 95% of its use on the weekend." In addition having time to travel to and from the race on bookending weekends means easier travel for those coming from afar.
"We have no doubt in our ability to execute a great race on, but we're in the stage of navigating the political waters. We're at a point where we need to fish or cut bait in the next four weeks. We need to have endorsement, if not approval [from land managers] within four weeks. If they say it is possible then we'll officially announce. If we can't get that, then we'll start planning for 2009."
Expect a race of almost all singletrack covering 250 to 300 miles sometime in late July. The organizers are looking at possible trails in Summit County, Park County, Chaffee County and Eagle County. Thanks to the legacy left behind by those in pursuit of precious metals in the 1850s and 1860s, there is a network of roads and trails throughout the area.
"I think that our chances of having the race in 2008 are modest. If we can't feel good about everyone being happy at the end, we'll pull back and give ourselves more time," finished McCormack.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.