With limited sponsorship money available in the world of professional bike racing, something has to give. But what?
The little races. Usually, the races most affected are the ones in remote places, places lacking companies with enough stake in the industry to justify supporting a large, high-caliber cycling event. The Tour de Georgia and Coors International Bicycle Classic (before it was revived as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge) are two examples of classic American stage races that folded because of cash deficiencies.
Race promoting is expensive. Time consuming, too, and probably half of the time spent on making a race happen is time spent on finding financial support.
For example, the U.S. stage race where many of the sport’s most renowned riders have earned their first big wins faced cancellation last week due to a shortage of funding.
Arguably the toughest race that most serious amateurs will ever get to challenge themselves in, the Tour of the Gila is also the toughest race some pros will face. For 28 years, the domestic racing scene has kicked off with a grueling week of climbing, battling wind, and competing in Silver City, NM—an area so remote that cell service is unavailable during three of the five stages. According to a press release, Tour of the Gila is “…the American road cycling stage race where ‘Champions are Discovered™.’”
In 2012, the men’s pro race became UCI-sanctioned, and Tour of the Gila committed to offering a women’s UCI race in 2015, which added $100,000 to this year’s estimated expenses.
And yet it struggles.
Almost two weeks ago, the Tour of the Gila race directors received word that a title sponsor had to pull investment. Because of this, the 2015 Tour of the Gila, which begins April 29, faced cancellation.
Thankfully an anonymous title sponsor and handful of angel sponsors stepped up to help Silver City pull off this great American road cycling stage race in 2015, which will offer Union Cycliste International (UCI) sanctioning / points for the men’s and women’s fields. And now the race directors have launched a RallyMe crowd funding campaign to raise what’s needed to fill in the gaps and bring back programs their bare-bones budget forced them to cut.
Tour of the Gila consists of three road race stages, an individual time trial, and a criterium. Stage 1 is a point-to-point road race ending on a 6.7-mile climb that peaks at a 19-percent grade en route to the ghost town of Mogollon. The criterium is held in downtown Silver City with high speeds, 90-degree turns and a brutal climb to weed out the weak. The iconic “Gila Monster” road race final stage consists of over 9,000 feet of climbing for the men and over 5,500 feet for the women, ending in the tiny enclave of Pinos Altos, nestled in the Gila National Forest.
“Over the past three decades, the TOG has grown into an international road cycling race; equally important to major pro teams as it is to many, many domestic amateur clubs,” a press release stated. “With this mix of participants and the authentic, small-town Southwestern community backdrop, the TOG…is one of the only cycling stage races in America that’s both attainable and aspirational.”
But the reason Tour of the Gila will survive is only partly because of the challenge and experience it presents athletes during a crucial week on their training and racing calendars, though.
This remote race is appealing to many because of its far-reaching impacts on the people in its community.
My own life narrative illustrates the doors a bike race and its culture can open. And living here in Silver City again—working for Women’s Adventure from my home office—has reminded me about the economic upshots of an event this size for an impoverished community. Besides, I understand the sometimes very personal consequences of bike tourism; I met my future husband at this race almost six years ago. Tour of the Gila has been a guiding influence on my life course, and I’ve never even raced it!
Thanks to the people who gave to make the 2015 race happen, this year’s Tour of the Gila is on track to have the strongest participation globally and internationally of any Gila in the past. More than 600 racers will now be able to experience this bucket-list cycling goal, and even more spectators (visiting fans, Silver City residents, volunteers, and team support crews) will get to enjoy the activities surrounding the race.
Tour of the Gila organizers—after noticing the cycling community’s outpouring of support and eagerness to donate—launched the RallyMe campaign yesterday, aiming to raise $15,000 toward resurrecting previously cut programs. Ten percent of the RallyMe funds will go to the Amy D. Foundation, and another ten percent will go to a Western New Mexico University leadership scholarship in long-time race supporter Lanny Olson’s name. (If the name looks familiar, it’s because it is. Lanny’s my dad!)
The Tour of the Gila “is a grassroots event that relies largely on the unparalleled support of the Silver City community, which is a major feat in a town of 10,000 people,” one of the race directors said. So Tour of the Gila will get the funding necessary to hold this year’s race, and Silver City will in turn get the influx of tourism money the town counts on annually. In this case, nothing had to give. The race just needed to ask, and because it’s a little race with a big heart, it received.
I couldn’t be prouder.
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