Successes and Failures of American Pro Racing

The American landscapes are supreme and the cycling roads of our tours are beautiful and varied. The sport of bicycle racing has been here since the initial days of the velocipedes of the 19th century. However, the history of professional bicycle racing in America is filled with infrequent success and routine disheartening failures. Here’s a brief glimpse into the last 50 or so years of American racing on an international scale.

[Remaining article collected from Wikipedia]

The Coors Classic

The Coors International Bicycle Classic (1980–1988) was a stage race sponsored by the Coors Brewing Company. Coors was the race’s second sponsor; the first, Celestial Seasonings, named the race after its premium tea Red Zinger, which began in 1975. Over the years, the event became America’s national tour, listed as the fourth largest race in the world after the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a España.[citation needed] The race grew from 3 days of racing in its first years as the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic to 2 weeks in the later Coors Classic years. Race stages were held in Colorado in the early years expanding first from Boulder and Denver back to the Keystone ski resort, later adding Estes Park, Vail, Aspen and Grand Junction, before further expansion that included Wyoming, Nevada, California and Hawaii. All but the last year the race concluded with a short circuit in North Boulder Park. On August 4, 2010 Colorado governor Bill Ritter and cycling legend Lance Armstrong announced that they would revive stage racing in Colorado with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. It was a seven-day race held in August 2011.

In 1975, Mo Siegel and John and Wyck Hay, founders of the Celestial Seasonings herbal tea company, launched the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic race to promote their new Red Zinger tea.

In 1979, Michael Aisner, the race’s then PR director, bought the race for one dollar from Siegel, and with his blessing took the idea of a grander event to Peter Coors, the beer impresario.

Over the next eight years, the Coors Classic grew into two weeks of racing in California, Nevada, and Colorado, with stages in some years in Hawaii and Wyoming. The race’s legendary merchandise had custom annual graphics, sold in every state (and even Japan and England), generating $1 million in 1987 and $1.5 million in 1988 in sales to help support the race.

The Red Zinger and Coors Classic stage races showcased world-class men and women’s cycling throughout the scenic terrain of Colorado, California, Nevada, Wyoming, and Hawaii. The race was considered the fourth biggest race on the world cycling calendar and was ground-breaking as the single biggest women’s stage race ever held.

The Coors Classic launched the careers of some of the world’s greatest cyclists and paved the way for the sport’s growth in the U.S.

  • The Coors International Bicycle Classic had many storied stages, including the world-renowned Morgul-Bismarck circuit. The site of the Grand Junction, Colorado, road race, the Colorado National Monument, was so exotic in appearance that the stage became known as “The Tour of the Moon” and was even featured in the Warner Brothers movie American Flyers. One recurring stage near Snowmass, Colorado, was run up “Suicide Hill”, a road so steep that it was heated in the winter. Races were run over mountains such as the Vail, Independence, and McClure Passes in Colorado. Popular recurring stages in California included San Francisco-area events such as a hill climb up to famed Coit Tower for a prologue and the Fisherman’s Wharf Criterium and a road stage crossing the Sierra Nevada range. One year the race also started in Hawaii’s Big Island in Hilo with a volcano circuit road race that had to be rerouted a month before the event when the perimeter road course was cut off by a lava flow from Kilauea. Another year a stage went from Wyoming’s capitol, Cheyenne, to Colorado’s capitol, Denver. The race finished every year but its last in North Boulder Park.
  • The Red Zinger/Coors Classic served as an inspiration for a youth bicycle road racing series in Colorado called the Red Zinger Mini Classics, which ran from 1981–1992, serving as a springboard for the development of several professional cyclists, including pro great Bobby Julich.

According to the liner notes from the 2006 DVD Red Zinger/Coors Classic (produced by race director Michael Aisner),[1] the following are some interesting facts about this race:

  • The Coors Classic was the biggest men’s pro-am and women’s race in the world
  • Credited by the Tour de France for inspiring their addition of a women’s division
  • Grew to have 13 full-time staff, 150 paid race-time staff, with a 300 race-week traveling crew
  • “Classic”-branded merchandise sales exceeded $1 million each year for 2 years; sales in Japan alone were over $100,000
  • First event to close a U.S. National Park (Colorado National Monument) and Coit Tower road in San Francisco
  • Created unique, reverse swivel seat BMW camerabike to interest network TV coverage
  • Received network rights fees and aired on CBS, NBC, and ESPN
  • John Tesh’s first network sports assignment (CBS), leading him to Emmy Awards for his Tour de France work
  • It hosted Olympic teams just before the Los Angeles Olympiad
  • Biggest women’s race in the world, hosting stars like Olympic champions Connie Carpenter, Jeannie Longo, Beth Heiden and Rebecca Twigg
  • Commemorative race pennants were placed on space shuttle Challenger. NASA legal later saw the corporate Coors name and removed it just before launch
  • A million Coors Classic drink napkins promoting the race were distributed on Frontier Airlines and Continental Airlines planes as part of their race sponsorship
  • Celebrities attending included President and First Lady Gerald and Betty Ford, John Denver, Bill Walton, Susan Saint James, Shaun Cassidy, George Will, Joe Morgan, and Wally Schirra
  • Actor/comedian Robin Williams credited this race with inspiring his cycling fanaticism
  • BMW cars and motorcycles were official race vehicles, and in 1988 a 325i was the top prize in the men’s division. Race winner Davis Phinney handed the keys to his long-time coach and team director Jim Ochowicz
  • Warner Bros. Studios secured exclusive theatrical rights for feature film American Flyers shot on location (in 1984) and based on the race, starring Kevin Costner
  • Mighty Soviet (Olympic) and East Germans teams raced in the U.S. for the first time at the Coors Classic
  • Live Colombia radio attended, and annually 150 media credentials were issued, many from foreign media
  • Helped establish careers for cycling greats Greg LeMond, Davis Phinney, Connie Carpenter, Jeannie Longo, Rebecca Twigg, Jonathan Boyer, Phil Anderson, Steve Bauer, Andy Hampsten, Luis Herrera, and Raul Alcala
  • Three five-time Tour de France winners attended as guests: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, and Bernard Hinault (who rode the 1986 race as the last stage race of his illustrious career)
  • Race director Aisner was included on the list of the ten most influential in world cycling by France’s L’Equipe newspaper, inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2005, and received the Korbel Award[2]

The Tour de Trump/Tour DuPont

The Tour DuPont was a cycling stage race in the United States held between 1989 and 1996, initially called the Tour de Trump. It was intended to become a North American cycling event similar in format and prestige to the Tour de France. The tour’s name came from its sponsor, DuPont. The race was held in the mid-Atlantic states, including areas near DuPont’s Wilmington, Delaware, headquarters. DuPont withdrew their sponsorship of the race after the 1996 edition, and the event has not been run since. During the eight-year history of the race as both the Tour de Trump and the Tour DuPont, it was won twice by the Mexican rider Raúl Alcalá and twice by the American Lance Armstrong. The race was cited as evidence of Richmond, Virginia‘s ability to host international cycle racing when the city successfully bid for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships.

The race was originally sponsored by Donald Trump and known as the “Tour de Trump” in 1989 and 1990.[1] The idea for the race was conceived by CBS Sports reporter John Tesh, who had covered the 1987 Tour de France and on his return suggested holding a race in the United States to the basketball commentator and entrepreneur Billy Packer. Packer originally planned to call the race the Tour de Jersey. He approached representatives of casinos in Atlantic City for sponsorship, and Trump offered to be the race’s primary sponsor and Packer’s business partner in the venture. It was Packer who suggested the Tour de Trump name.[1] Speaking at the time of the start of the first Tour de Trump in May 1989, Trump himself stated that “When [the name] was initially stated, I practically fell out of my seat. I said, ‘Are you kidding? I will get killed in the media if I use that name. You absolutely have to be kidding'”. However, Trump reportedly changed his mind within 20 seconds, and was convinced by the commercial value of the name.[2]

Trump’s lawyers subsequently sent a “cease and desist” letter to the organizers of a Tour de Rump bike race held in Aspen, Colorado. The letter stated: “You are using the name and mark Tour de Rump in connection with an ‘inaugural’ cycling event. Your use of that name and mark is likely to cause confusion and constitutes trademark infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin, all in violation of applicable federal and state laws”.[3] The organizer Ron Krajian’s lawyer responded by arguing that his race was a local and non-commercial event. No response was received from Trump’s lawyers, and the Tour de Rump went ahead.[1][3]

The total prize money on offer for the first event in 1989 was US$250,000, including $50,000 for the winner of the general classification.[2] This, together with the race’s place in the international calendar between the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, made it attractive to high-profile riders and teams, but the event did not attract large crowds.[4] Interviewed on NBC prior to the start of the 1989 race, Trump stated that “I would like to make this the equivalent of the Tour de France”.[5] The race filled a gap left by the demise of the Coors International Bicycle Classic, which had been North America’s major stage race but which folded following its 1988 edition.[6] Some European teams reportedly missed the Vuelta a España in order to race the Tour de Trump.[7]

Greg LeMond at the 1989 Tour de Trump

The inaugural Tour de Trump started in Albany, New York, and consisted of 10 stages, totalling 837 miles (1,347 km), taking in five Eastern states.[8] The route took the race south from Albany to Richmond, Virginia, and then across to Atlantic City, where it finished in front of Trump’s casino.[6] Some 114 riders from eight professional and 11 amateur teams competed. Riders competing included Greg LeMond, who was taking part as part of a comeback from injury,[8] and Andy Hampsten, and the teams represented included Lotto, Panasonic, PDM, and the Soviet national squad.[4]

The race was met by anti-Trump protests in the first-stage finishing town of New Paltz, New York, where demonstrators held placards reading “Fight Trumpism”, “Die Yuppie $cum”, “The Art of the Deal = The Rich Get Richer” and “Trump = Lord of the Flies”. The 1989 race was won by the Norwegian rider Dag Otto Lauritzen of the American team 7-Eleven, although there was some controversy about the result as Belgian rider Eric Vanderaerden, who had won four stages and was expected to take the lead in the general classification in the final stage time trial in Atlantic City but took a wrong turn following a race motorbike.[1][9] The Soviet rider Viatcheslav Ekimov, who took part as an amateur, won the first stage of the race (following a prologue time trial).[10] Articles published the following year reported that Ekimov “had had the nerve to win a stage as an amateur … and some pros reportedly rewarded him by jamming a feed bag into his wheel”,[11] and that he “threatened to win the Tour de Trump last year as an amateur before the pros banded together to eliminate any chance he had of winning”.[12] Nonetheless, the first edition of the race was described as “a smashing success” in Sports Illustrated, which noted: “If you could get past the name, the Tour de Trump, without losing your lunch, and if you could somehow divorce the sporting event from the excess baggage that went with it … what you had was a pretty nice bicycle race”.[13]

Following the first event, Packer wanted to expand the race to take in more states. The 1990 race started on May 4 in Wilmington in Delaware, a state which Trump considered important for his three casinos in Atlantic City, and also visited Balitmore, after Trump agreed to local racecourse owner Joe De Francis’s condition that he moor his yacht the Trump Princess in Baltimore Harbor during the race.[1] It finished in Boston on May 13.[14] Entrants in 1990 included 1989 winner Dag Otto Lauritzen, Greg LeMond, who was coming back from a virus and food poisoning, Steve Bauer, who had finished second in Paris-Roubaix that year, Andy Hampsten, Davis Phinney, Ekimov, in his first year as a professional, and East German rider Olaf Ludwig.[12] The race was won by Mexican rider Raúl Alcalá of the PDM-Concorde team.[15]

After two editions, Trump withdrew his sponsorship of the race due to his business’s financial problems.[1][16] According to Packer, reflecting on the event in 2016, he and Trump “parted as good business friends”, although he also explained that Trump’s personality and celebrity, as well as the scandals surrounding Trump’s marriage and business affairs, distracted from the event and annoyed European riders in the race.[1]

After Trump withdrew from sponsoring the event, DuPont became the primary sponsor.[16] Between 1991 and 1995, national amateur teams took part alongside professional teams. The event attracted well-known competitors, including Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond, and was attended by high-profile European-based professional cycling teams. In 1996, the Union Cycliste Internationale upgraded it to a 2.1 ranked race, meaning that amateurs could no longer compete.[17] This made the race the highest ranked outside of Europe and the first North American stage race to be ranked 2.1.[18] The 1996 race was the subject of a number of legal issues, including a dispute over rights to its profits between the race owners, Billy Packer and president of the United States Cycling Federation Mike Plant, which resulted in them suing each other. DuPont itself was involved in a dispute about the anti-homosexual employment policies of the local government in Greenville, South Carolina, with the company insisting that the race organizers exclude the city from the route. After 1996, DuPont dropped its sponsorship and the race has not been run since.[19]

During its six years as the Tour DuPont, the race was won by Dutch rider Erik Breukink, Greg LeMond, Raúl Alcalá, Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov, and twice by Lance Armstrong.[20] Over this time, a prologue time trial held in Wilmington, Delaware, became the traditional start to the race. Between 1992 and 1994, the race included a stage from Port Deposit and Hagerstown in Maryland, but in 1995, South Carolina was included on the route for the first time in its place.[21] Every edition of the Tour DuPont visited Richmond, Virginia.[6]

Breukink won in 1991 by overcoming a 50-second deficit going into the final stage, a 16.1-mile (25.9 km) individual time trial, despite puncturing 15 minutes into the stage, to win by 12 seconds from Norwegian Atle Kvalsvoll.[22] In 1992, American Greg Lemond won the overall classification. It was the last major win of his career,[23] although he competed in the race again in 1994.[24] Alcalá’s victory in the race in 1993 was his second, having won the Tour de Trump in 1990. In 1993, he beat Lance Armstrong, who had held the leader’s jersey going into the final stage.[25] Armstrong’s first participation in the race had been in 1991, when he finished midway down the overall classification. According to The Guardian in 2008, his performance in the 1991 Tour DuPont “marked the arrival of a promising newcomer to the sport”.[26] In 1994, Alcalá and Armstrong returned to the race as teammates, both riding for Motorola.[24] The race took place over 11 stages, covering 1,050 miles (1,690 km).[25] That year, Ekimov won the overall title, with Armstrong finishing second again. Armstrong finally won the overall classification of the Tour DuPont in 1995, when the race was held over 1,130 miles (1,820 km), despite losing more than two minutes to Ekimov on the final-stage time trial.[27] The final edition of the race, held in 1996, was also won by Armstrong, who became the first and only rider to win two editions of the event back-to-back. The French rider Pascal Hervé, of the Festina cycling team, was second.[28] The total prize money for the 1996 race was in excess of US$260,000.[29]

In July 1996, DuPont announced that it was ending its sponsorship of the race. According to a brand manager for the company, “Over the past six years, the Tour DuPont has been an excellent vehicle for promoting our products. However, we need to focus more on strategic markets in other parts of the world, where a sustained annual program versus a two-week event can better leverage the DuPont brand equity for profitable growth”. Race organizer Mike Plant explained that “I talked to them a couple of months ago, and they had to make a hard decision. They don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to put into worldwide advertising. They put a ton of money into this event and they built up a valuable franchise, but, like Motorola, corporations change the way they do business”. Plant reported that polling had showed that public recognition of the event had grown significantly, but also that awareness of who sponsored it had declined.[30]

Historian Eric Reed notes that a DuPont marketing executive characterized the initial sponsorship as “a bargain”, and that the company claimed that the American press clippings generated by the event weighed 29 pounds (13 kg). DuPont executives also reported that they valued the global media exposure as worth close to US$70 million. Reed quotes a DuPont marketing executive as stating: “In 40 years in [media relations], I have never seen such concentrated, sustained and positive media coverage”. However, Reed argues that despite this initial enthusiasm, “the Tour DuPont’s chronic weaknesses hamstrung the event’s growth”, citing its “pro-am” status, which prevented professional riders from being able to win world ranking points in the event. He also states that despite having an estimated worldwide television audience of 200 million, “American fan enthusiasm and roadside spectator interest in the event failed to spike significantly”.[19]

DuPont’s withdrawal also came months after John DuPont, heir to the Du Pont family fortune, had been arrested for the murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.[1][4] At the time of the announcement of DuPont’s discontinuation of sponsorship, Mike Plant reported that a 1997 event was tentatively scheduled for May 1–11, and that he had been in discussions with ten companies about potential title sponsorship of the race.[30]

AMGEN Tour of California

The Tour of California (officially known as the Amgen Tour of California for sponsorship purposes) is an annual professional cycling stage race on the UCI America Tour and USA Cycling Professional Tour. It was first held in 2006. The eight-day race covers 650–700 miles (1,045–1,126 km) through the U.S. state of California. A typical edition might begin in Nevada City, travel through the redwoods, wine country and the Pacific Coast, and finish in a southern California city such as Escondido. The 2009 race crossed the Central Valley from Merced to Fresno, with an excursion through the Sierra Nevada foothills, before crossing over to the coast. The tour is sponsored by Amgen, a large California-based biotech company.

With eight or nine of the 20 UCI ProTour teams (known as ProTeams) usually racing, the Tour of California is one of the most important cycling races in the United States, along with the Tour of Utah. On November 28, 2006, the UCI upgraded it from 2.1 (category 1) to 2.HC (French: Hors categorie; English: beyond category), the highest rating for races on the UCI Continental Circuits and one of only four such stage races in the United States. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the Tour of Utah were the only other current 2.HC being raced as of 2015. On August 2, 2016, the UCI upgraded the race to World Tour status and added it to the 2017 UCI World Tour schedule. [1]

The race was originally staged in February but, the 2010 Tour of California was moved to May, the same time that the Giro d’Italia is held.[2] At the time of the move it was considered likely that the number of Americans in the Giro and Italians in the Tour of California would decrease.[3] Tour of California organizers sought to make the race a preparatory event for the Tour de France, believing few riders who seek a serious position in the Tour would ride the Giro. Since the change in schedule, the race has continued to be held in May.

Tour of Utah

The Tour of Utah, officially the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, is an annual multiday road cycling race; traversing the states of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.[note 1] Since the 2011 edition, the tour holds UCI classification (2.1). Between five and six UCI ProTeams compete annually. Due to its altitude, distance, and weather conditions, the tour is nicknamed: “America’s Toughest Stage Race”. In 2010, only 71 of the initial 140 riders finished. After receiving 2.1 status in 2011, a stronger field participated; 88 of the initial 120 competitors finished. In September 2014, it was announced that the race was promoted to 2.HC status.[1]

It began, in 2000, as an amateur race, the Thanksgiving Point Stage Race, and received its present name in 2004. Originally organized by cycling enthusiasts, the race was purchased by the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies — Larry H. Miller‘s investment firm — in 2007. The tour received UCI classification (2.2) in 2006, however, the 2007 edition was postponed due to lack of sponsorship.

The 2008 and 2009 editions subsequently returned to United States National Racing Calendar (USNRA). After the 2010 edition, the Tour of Utah was placed in the UCI America Tour, and regained UCI classification (2.1).[2] Five UCI ProTeams were among the sixteen-teams competing in the 2011 and 2013 editions, and six were among the seventeen-teams competing in the 2012 edition. In the 2014 edition, six of the sixteen-teams were UCI ProTeams.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge, also known as USA Pro Challenge, was an annual multi-day professional road bicycle racing stage race that first took place in Colorado in 2011. Originally announced on August 4, 2010 by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and Lance Armstrong as the Quiznos Pro Challenge,[1] the event carried on the state’s cycling legacy, which was most notably highlighted by the Coors Classic that ran from 1980 to 1988. On February 4, 2011 Richard E. Schaden, founder of Quiznos and the event’s co-chairman, announced the investment of an initial $10 million to secure the initial growth and longevity of the race. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge was one of only three current 2.HC rated races in the United States (along with the Tour of California, and the Tour of Utah), and was considered one of the most important pro cycling races in the U.S. After the 2015 edition, Schaden was unable to find a title sponsor for the 2016 edition, and subsequently left as an investor. The organizers were hoping to find a new investor to bring the race back for a 2017 edition,[2] but the race folded after the 2015 edition.[3]


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