02 August 2013

Organization Behind the Race

How the USA Pro Challenge Works

Just as we are interested in the owners of a football team or a basketball team, I have always been curious about the who and how of a professional bike race. What does it take to put-on a race at the level of the USA Pro Challenge? I learned it takes a lot of money and a lot of people, but mostly two very dedicated Founders offering major financial backing.

Yesterday I was happy to have a scheduled interview with Shawn Hunter, Co-Chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Challenge stage race, now in it's third year. He was open and welcomed my questions about the organization and funding of this race.

As a fan of sport I am always curious about revenue-flow and who pays for what, but cycling has a different business model - the tickets are free to spectators. We might pay an enormous amount for our bikes, gear, and event or race registrations, but attending a pro race is absolutely free.

The access that this sport affords the fan plus the free factor is something I never take for granted, yet I have been out on the road at a race and heard a spectator comment, "my tax dollars pay for this." I don't think so, I thought, but I wanted to know more.

You wouldn't believe how much money goes into providing you free entertainment

The USA Pro Challenge is 98% privately funded.

A 5-year business plan was drawn up in 2011 to support a race with a budget of over 10 million dollars annually. The USA Pro Challenge is privately owned and financed by Colorado businessmen Richard E. Schaden (Rick), and his father Richard F. Schaden (pronounced Shaw-den). As Founders, Rick Schaden and Richard Schaden are committed for the long-term of this race and plan to continue support for years.

This is good news to cycling fans and professional cycling teams, who enjoy coming to Colorado to watch or race. Mostly it is good news for Sponsors who want to put their products in front of spectators and for Colorado cities wanting to receive great exposure and great economic impact by hosting a stage of the USA Pro Challenge. Sponsors and Host Cities receive international TV exposure in addition to an influx of consumers or visitors both during the race and after the race.

People behind the race

Over 4000 people support the USA Pro Challenge race providing continuity in quality - stage to stage and year to year. Over 700 rooms a night are needed to house the huge contingency that bring this race to life. Classic Bicycle Racing LLC was formed to run the race, based in Denver, Colorado, Shawn Hunter works along with approximately 10 other employees to plan and coordinate all aspects of the USA Pro Challenge.

Shawn Hunter, Co-Chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Challenge.  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Shawn Hunter (center speaking with Nicole Okoneski) in the middle of a very busy day (race day in Breckenridge 2012). Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Medalist Sports, based in Peachtree City, Georgia, is the contracted sports management company taking care of all race logistics. A huge job for Race Director Jim Birrell who works with approximately 13 other employees to coordinate the USA Pro Challenge, Amgen Tour of California, USA Cycling Professional Championships, Larry H. Miler Tour of Utah, and The Dempsey Challenge.

Race Director, Jim Birrell of Medalist Sports planning with Nicole Okoneski of Rogers & Cowan in Telluride, 2012.  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Rogers & Cowan, based in Los Angeles with offices in New York and London, is the contracted public relations firm for the race. Director Nicole Okoneski keeps very active for months pre-race and during each stage.

Georges Luechinger, PR/Media Officer at team BMC, with Steve Brunner of KOM Sports Marketing in Durango, 2012.  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
King of the Mountain (KOM) Sports Marketing, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is contracted to handle marketing and press relations during the race. Steve Brunner (above) is the Operations Director, and Guillermo Rojas (below) is the Field Operations Director, they have approximately 6 other employees, but mostly it is Steve and Guillermo who can be seen everywhere at this race. I am pretty certain neither of them get much sleep during the tour.

Guillermo Rojas of KOM Sports Marketing.  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
I also have other race time favorites, those people I look forward to seeing twice a year in California and Colorado: Louise who works with KOM and manages the Press Room is beyond gracious; Terry and Steve who drive the Media cars are always friendly; there are a few Official Race Marshals that I get to regularly see in action including Ed Daily a supervising Regulator, one of the many hard working moto marshals (who track and keep the rolling poloton safe), and Larry Espinoza - no one gets by Larry.

My favorite Course Marshal Larry Espinoza.  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Ed Daily, the nicest Regulator you will ever meet.  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
I believe this is the women that calls the race on the race radio for all the teams. I understand she speaks 4 languages and does an incredible job.

The entire motorcycle support crew and official car crews are fantastic and come from across the United States to converge on the races organized by Medalist Sports. Some of the motorcycles used by race marshals, medical personnel, or drivers of camera crews or photographers are owned by the drivers and driven across country to the race, others are rented locally. Their expenses are paid for by Race Organizers.

Medical Moto  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Photo Motos  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Many of the full-time race volunteers are repeat visitors, they too live in different cities, often taking vacation, others are retired. They put their name on a list awhile ago and are called when a race comes up to see if they are available. They travel in vans together, staying in hotels together, before being dropped at their varying assigned posts, stage after stage for the entire week.

It has reached the point where I enjoy seeing the people behind the race as much as I enjoy seeing the riders. Especially some of the other members of the media.

Local volunteers are fantastic, thousands volunteered to help in 2012. Without the valued volunteer this race would be impossible. Shawn Hunter explained, "They come because of their passion for the sport or to support their community." They come donating their time and boundless energy, and in the end contribute immensely by making the day at the race a good experience for everyone involved.

Who pays for what

When a city bids to host a stage of the USA Pro Challenge, they agree to provide certain public support including some local police, local city road closure, and waste management. The majority of the cost to insure safety of the spectators and racers, or the "Lion's Share" to use the exact words of Shawn Hunter, falls on Race Organizers. The Race pays for nearly everything it takes to put on this great event except for the manpower of local volunteers and perhaps the Mavic Support crew and the majority of media.

Host cities also provide public space and utilities, coordinate local volunteer efforts, create special events to attract spectators, provide local transportation, publicize and market the event and welcome visitors from around the globe into their hometown. It is their day (or two) to shine as a community. Cities are in the business of doing this to promote local commerce.

Shawn Hunter refers to the Host Cities as "Partners." The 2013 Host Cities are: Aspen, Snowmass, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Beaver Creek, Vail, Loveland, Fort Collins, and Denver.

2013 Partners (Sponsors):

2013 Founding Partners of the USA Pro Challenge
2013 Offiical Partners of the USA Pro Challenge
What comes in, what goes out: The Partners, both Sponsors and Host Cities, pay varying amounts depending on exclusivity and impact.
  • 14 Founding Partners and 29 Official Partners 
  • International TV rights
  • 8 primary Host Cities 
  • Festival Vendors/Exhibitor
  • Merchandise
  • VIP Hospitality
  • Tour Companies
  • Citizen Events: Amateur Time Trial, Challenge Experience, 9K(5K) Sprint Challenge (minimal)
EXPENSES - Operations, these items are paid for by the Race Organizer:
  • Contracted Companies for Logistics, Marketing, Press and Public Relations.
  • Staff Salaries
  • Police Marshals along the course
  • Race Moto Marshals
  • Medical Doctors and transportation
  • CDOT
  • US Forest Service
  • Full press room facility with complete business equipment and food for hundreds.
  • Rental of conference rooms and facilities
  • Hotels for all staff 
  • Staff Apparel 
  • Car Rental
  • Shuttle vans
  • Truck Rental 
  • Purchasing and shipping
  • Gasoline and Transportation costs
  • Broom Wagon and road signs
  • Road crews and equipment
  • Start/Finish area crews and equipment
  • Printed material, marketing material, all signage, labels, passes, and banners
  • Timing Equipment, Tracking Equipment, Communications Equipment
  • Tents, fencing, staging, loudspeakers, road safety equipment, generators, tanks, portable toilets, crowd safety equipment and event equipment.
  • Announcers, Podium Girls
  • Podium awards 
  • Prize winnings
Shawn Hunter explained to me that covering the costs of road closures along the route varies between the local cities and the USA Pro Challenge. Road repair is not something the Race Organizers get into, (as we all know from the Tour de France - local cities in France are required to complete road maintenance on all local roads prior to the Tour arriving). Shawn Hunter said they select their routes based on existing good conditions of roads in Colorado.

It's a rolling set-up day and night at the USA Pro Challenge. Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
EXPENSES - Team, these items are paid for by the Race Organizer:
Team Airfare
Team baggage
Team Hotels 

I was personally most surprised that the Race Organizers pay for all team expenses associated with getting the team to the race and being at the race, but Shawn Hunter explained that it is part and parcel of being a 2.HC UCI level stage race (one of only 2 in North America). Team expenses alone are huge with riders coming from all over the world, 7-10 nights of hotels, transportation, 16 teams, 8 riders on each team, management, coaches, mechanics, soigneurs, cooks, masseuse, support staff, bus drivers, and a lot of hungry riders!

Team Equipment: the bikes belong to the teams or sometimes to the individual riders. Some pro teams bring their own team buses and team cars, other teams rent vehicles using the Race Organizations rental car company and place temporary decal stickers on the cars or RVs. Last year Team Omega Pharma-Quickstep had a lucky volunteer RV driver from Durango who stayed with them the entire tour. Even more reason why you should sign up as a volunteer - you never know what you could be doing.

Omega Pharma-Quickstep Team support van in 2012.  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
Bontrager team cars rolled in from Texas in 2012. Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
It's FREE - Go!

Even with funding of ten million dollars annually, the race looses more than that every year and will continue to do so "for a couple more years," Shawn Hunter explained to me yesterday. This is as planned and they are in it for the long run he assured me.

The least we can do as fans is GO!

Go see the race with your family or friends. Ride your bikes - and multi-task, get your exercise in while being entertained - it's FREE to watch the race! Try to give back to the host cities who are using some of their resources to further promote their town and it's local business owners. Your tax dollar is paying for a very miniscule amount of this bike race, and most likely only if you live in one of the towns.

You can thank these men for the USA Pro Challenge - 

Richard (Rick) E. Schaden (son) and Richard F. Schaden (father)

According to the USA Pro Challenge published information on the Race Founder - "Rick Schaden is Founder and Chairman of Consumer Concept Partners, and is actively involved in building the firm into a nationally recognized private investment, concept development, strategic advisory and causal marketing firm. As founder and owner of the USA Pro Challenge, Rick led the vision of the race and established it as an internationally recognized and respected brand. With the financial support of his investment group Consumer Capital Partners, Schaden saw the opportunity to further the growth of the sport and create longevity in the international sports arena. Rick’s philanthropic interests concentrate on homelessness via America’s Road Home and helping young adults discover their talents and value through Smart-Girl."

More about Co-Founder and Race Owner Rick Schaden

Richard E. Schaden Co-Founder and Owner of USA Pro Challenge in Denver, 2012. Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
More about Co-Founder Richard F. Schaden

Richard F. Schaden, Co-Founder of the USA Pro Challenge. Photo by Mark Leffingwell, article in DailyCamera
They pay 10 million dollars a year to wear this pass

(You can buy a VIP pass for $250, and probably see them hanging around).  Photo © by Karen of Pedal Dancer®
If you see Rick and Richard at the race in August - go up and say a hello and Thank you! Chances are they will look like every other fan out enjoying a good competitive bike race and a nice day outdoors in Colorado.

Please read more about the race: Official website
Or visit the Pedal Dancer Guide Page: USA PRO CHALLENGE