Boulder begins prep for 2014 cyclocross nationals (Daily Camera)
City officials, cyclists start one-year countdown to 'cross nationals at Valmont Bike Park
After finishing second in his own race, 10-year-old Aiden Keller cheered on his dad, Greg Keller, while he pushed through the last few laps of the New Year's Resolution Pre-Nationals cyclocross race at Valmont Bike Park on Saturday.
"Go Dad, go!" Aiden yelled, standing astride his bike.
A few other spectators rang their cowbells and caught on to the 10-year-old's chants, joining in jokingly, "Yeah! Go Dad!"
Around 150 'cross racers braved the snow and mud Saturday morning for the race, one last push before 2013 cyclocross national championships that start Wednesday in Madison, Wis.
This time next year, the Kellers will be prepping for a national championship race at their home course, Boulder's Valmont Bike Park. Saturday's pre-nationals race marked the unofficial one-year countdown until Boulder hosts the national race Jan. 8-12, 2014.
City of Boulder and Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau officials travel to Madison this week to begin promoting the 2014 national championship race in Boulder and to take notes on how Madison organized its race.
"It's that benchmark," Boulder's Valmont Bike Park project manager Mike Eubank said Saturday at the bike park. "After this, we have one year to go. It starts our countdown."
Valmont Bike Park a model for other cities
Six cities submitted cyclocross nationals proposals to USA Cycling, said USA Cycling Vice President of National Events Micah Rice.
But Boulder's proposal stuck out, Rice said. The bid was a joint effort by the City of Boulder and Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, which showed a solid commitment from Boulder leaders.
And, Rice said, the city's decision to build a permanent 40-acre, natural-surface bike park deserved recognition.
"That a city would put money into something like (Valmont Bike Park) instead of another three or four softball fields or soccer fields or other things," Rice said. "Going in the direction of a cycling-specific park-- that's a big deal and we look at that as something we hope a lot of other cities will try to emulate. That's something USA Cycling wants to reward."
Valmont Bike Park has already proven worthy of large-scale cyclocross events by hosting the Boulder Cup, which drew large crowds of spectators and competitors, Rice said.
USA Cycling narrowed down the six bids to three, awarding the race to Boulder for 2014, Austin, Texas, for 2015 and Asheville, N.C., for 2015.
"We felt with the success of the Boulder Cup and with the fact that the course was permanent and had run a number of test events, Boulder was ready right away. That's why Boulder got the first year."
But it wasn't just Valmont Bike Park, he added. Boulder's bike-friendly streets and the cycling community's willingness to volunteer time toward making nationals a success were also factors, Rice said.
"The cycling culture in Boulder is just one of the strongest cycling cultures of any city in the U.S.," he said. "When you start thinking about Boulder and the cycling culture, there are very few cities that reach that level of enthusiasm and intensity for cyclists."
Valmont Bike Park project manager Mike Eubank chatted excitedly with a junior racer at Saturday's pre-nationals race.
"What have you been up to, huh?" Eubank asked before hopping out of the way as a pack of muddy bikes tore behind him.
Eubank, along with Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau's Margee Austin, have recruited a team of cycling ambassadors who will tell everyone competing in Madison why they should plan a trip to Valmont Bike Park next January.
They'll also take notes in Madison on the race's every detail--from bathrooms to a lost-and-found box to parking.
"We're going to take considerable time and attention and focus on the event identifying stuff they're doing well and stuff we want to bring back," Eubank said. "It's an opportunity to work directly hand-in-hand with those folks who are hosting it to learn from them."
Among other things, Eubank and his team of ambassadors will emphasize the bike-friendliness of Boulder, the city's craft beer industry, multitude of local bike shops, mountainous scenery and outdoor recreation options.
"It's going to be an easy sell but we want to make sure there's a good, positive buzz that we have out there," he said.
USA Cycling's Rice said the city should concentrate on the peripheral aspects of the race so that racers and their families enjoy the city when not competing.
"We're not worried about the bike race itself," Rice said. "We know what that looks like. You're talking about a lot of families that come in for four or five days. They'll do the race, but that's a very minor part. The biggest thing we can do is get really organized on all the other things to do surrounding the race that make it a truly good experience."
When Bend, Ore., hosted nationals in 2009, the city reported $1.08 million in direct economic impact from the race.
Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Mary Ann Mahoney said her office's research predicted that nationals will bring in around $540,000 in Boulder.
"We're very cautious and probably conservative about what we estimate," she said, explaining the disparity between Bend and Boulder's numbers.
Mahoney said that Colorado cyclists made up 12 percent of racers in Bend. If that number holds true or grows for Boulder, she said, local families are less likely to stay in Boulder hotels or will stay fewer days.
Between 1200 and 1500 cyclists will compete in the race, Mahoney predicted, but the number of spectators and vendors is unknown.
Boulder Beer President Jeff Brown, who races cyclocross himself, said he hopes the city will make a "huge impression" on cyclists, who will then bring their families back for future vacations.
Plus, many 'cross racers like beer. Boulder Beer, 2880 Wilderness Pl., sits a short one-mile bike ride from Valmont, perfect for stimulating the local economy.
"Cyclocross racers love their beer, and that's awesome for us," Brown said. "But I think the 'cross racers will have the opportunity to sample a dozen of the best breweries in the country. I'm sure that's going to be a little of the enticement to coming to Boulder."
Build it, and they will race
The 40-acre Valmont Bike Park occupies a section of the 132-acre Valmont City Park, and was developed by a partnership between the city and the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance.
Of the projected total cost of $1,256,277, sales and property tax revenue funded 65 percent, while grants, donations and sponsorships covered the remaining 35 percent, according to the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance.
Ground broke on the park in October 2009, and the park opened a year and a half later in June 2011.
Eubank said winning the bid for 2014 cyclocross nationals is one marker of the park's success.
"We put extreme focus on creating a standard for events so they would actually incorporate and follow International Cycling Union standards for 'cross and racing," Eubank said. "It's almost like there was an anticipation, like we knew that something like (nationals) would come."
Cyclocross nationals won't fill the void left by Boulder's decision not to submit a bid for the 2013 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, but Eubank said it doesn't need to.
He said he was supportive of the decision to take a year off from the challenge, adding that the city and event organizers can use the time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the 2012 Boulder stage.
"There's always going to be something for the cycling community to get excited about in Boulder," Eubank said. "This is going to keep the ball rolling and it may even help us with our (USA Pro Cycling Challenge) bid knowing we can accommodate these people. We'll definitely use that to our advantage for hosting the challenge in 2014."
Greg Keller, who pens a cyclocross blog called Mud and Cowbells, said he hopes cyclocross racers from across the country will make the trip to Boulder for the 2014 nationals because of the city's partnership with the community and volunteers to build a successful, multi-use park.
Not only does it challenge experienced riders, the bike park is welcoming to kids and newcomers to the sport.
"Boulder is ready at the right time and the right place to show off what a sport can do for the community," he said.
By Sarah Kuta For the Camera