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Women-only Colorado Classic picks up big sponsor, giving the race financial stability and long-term viability

Two-year deal with Colorado newcomer VF Corp puts 4-stage pro cycling race on firmer footing than USA Pro Challenge, its co-ed predecessor

Cyclists cross the Denver finish line in the Colorado Classic in 2019, the first year the race featured only women athletes. (Provided by Colorado Classic)
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VF Corp hasn’t officially moved to town, but the giant outdoor gear company has signed on as a title sponsor of the women-only Colorado Classic bike race, signaling its commitment to playing a key role in its new community.

The two-year deal announced Wednesday also puts the race on firmer financial footing than its predecessor, the USA Pro Challenge.

“It’s a game changer,” race organizer Ken Gart said. “By not doing the men’s race, we are going to save a bunch of money, and by having a title sponsor, we will have more money coming in. Costs are going down and revenues will be going up.”

Lack of a title sponsor dogged the Pro Challenge, with the seven-stage cycling event owned by the Schaden family reportedly losing $20 million over its five-year life. The race ended after the 2016 run, but was reconstituted by Gart and RPM Events Group in 2017 as the Colorado Classic. Male and female cyclists raced the Colorado Classic for two years, with the final stage running into downtown Denver and finishing at a music festival in the RiNo neighborhood.

In December, RPM announced the 2019 race, Aug. 22-25, will be for women only, with longer, more challenging stages than previous Colorado Classic or Pro Challenge women’s routes and a purse larger than the men’s prizes in the 2018 race.  

Velorama, the three-day music festival that accompanied the race, has been canceled.

“Our task is to recognize these women and get people to really pay attention and get engaged,” Gart said in an interview after the sponsorship was announced at the Colorado Capitol. “Globally, women cyclists have never gotten the credit they deserve.”

VF, which owns gearmakers including Smartwool, The North Face, JanSport and Eagle Creek — but no bike brands — last year announced it was moving its headquarters to Denver, with the promise of hiring as many as 800 workers over an eight-year period.

“VF isn’t just moving to Colorado, we want to be part of Colorado,” Craig Hodges, VF’s vice president of corporate affairs, said in a news release. “The Colorado Classic is a world-class event that will enable VF and our brands to begin weaving into the fabric of our new home state and its active lifestyle culture.”

Fans cheer on cyclists during a Colorado Classic mountain stage. (Photo provided by Colorado Classic)

Rob Simon, the race’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview that the Colorado Classic also is deploying a different broadcasting strategy to push women’s racing to a wider more engaged audience. In year one, the race was broadcast exclusively in partnership with NBC Sports and EuroSport 1&2; last year it was broadcast domestically in a deal with Altitude Sports and internationally with EuroSport 1&2.

But the race also has been experimenting with live-streams, distributed to partners and on Facebook. Last year, Global Cycling Network pushed the stream on its Facebook Watch channels in English and Spanish. That, combined with live-streams carried by the Colorado Classic Tour Tracker mobile app and other partners, drew more than a half million viewers to the race, Simon said.

This year, the Colorado Classic is blowing out its streaming distribution.

“If we want to put women’s racing on the global stage, this is the way to do that,” Simon said.

Gart said all four days of racing will be streamed. “A lot of the women’s racing, even in Europe, is not televised,” he said, “so this will help these women in building their brands.

“And that’s our ultimate goal,” he said, “getting women’s bike racing even with men. There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be even with men’s racing.”


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