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Host Towns Agree: Cyclists are a Bonanza

By Claire Martin, The Denver Post, 1998

Colorado MapIf you think that playing host to 2,000 sweaty, tired bicyclists is something nobody would fight over, think again. In Colorado, towns lobby hard to feed and lodge that motley crew in black lycra shorts and pigeon-toed shoes.

Greeley, which hosted the cyclists in 1990, would turn cartwheels to see Ride the Rockies return to town. In Leadville, which has hosted the tour every other year since Ride the Rockies debut in 1986, residents were so worried when the tour bypassed them this year as well as last, people called Ride the Rockies tour director Paul Balaguer to ask if they'd done something wrong.

Vail, notorious among cyclists for its unfriendliness during the 1988 tour's visit, is eager for this year's chance to make amends.

Even places the tour merely passes through are anxious to see the cyclists return, says Art Schildgen, who organized a staggering town-sized party when riders went through Del Norte in '91.

Why are so many towns eager for a crowd that, frankly, could stand a long, soapy shower the minute it passes the city limits sign?

Besides making towns hustle and bustle, it brings in truckloads of cash (Not to mention a free, full-page ad in The Denver Post, congratulating the town voted Best Host by the tour's participants).

Cyclists spend approximately $90,000 each night in each host town along the route, and at least one-third of that is clear profit. Towns in between overnight destinations can earn up to $5,000 in a few hours by selling food, drinks and souvenirs. That's an enormous boon to small Colorado towns, and even for more well-known tourist destinations.

The formula of food, music and friendliness has worked magic in towns like Greeley, Granby and Cortez. The tour's visit transforms streets into one big block party that provides entertainment for the residents and offers what town promoters see as a chance to combine fund-raising with public relations. If riders have a positive experience they might come back on vacation.

There are drawbacks. Sometimes, organizers of community dinners run out of food, sending panicky players to the store for more. Silverton ran out of hot water one year when a downpour drenched campers. In Del Norte what was thought to be a sure-fire investment in several cases of fruit wound up costing the town because the riders had just had fruit at an aid station a few miles away. However, church and civic groups selling homemade baked goods, made out like bandits, pulling in $3,500 in less than four hours.

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