As the riders headed out of Durango on Monday morning to begin the second USA Pro Cycling Challenge, organizers and business owners in Colorado Springs were hoping to catch an economic tailwind when the race arrives here on Friday.

“It’s a huge economic driver,” said Meredith Vaughan, co-chair of the local organizing committee and president of the advertising agency Vladimir Jones. “We get television coverage that we could never buy in 162 international countries. We have the ability to showcase our city in a different way — we have the ability to focus on one of our core assets, which is being a sports-oriented city.”

Shawn Hunter, the Pro Cycling Challenge’s CEO, said the event brings out a passionate fan base.

“It’s spectacular to see up close and in person,” Hunter said.

No one was quite sure what to expect in 2011, when Colorado Springs hosted the prologue to kick off the inaugural Pro Cycling Challenge, Vaughan said. This year, with a little more experience under their belt, organizers are expecting big things.

With the Springs hosting the Friday finish, and especially with the race’s only circuit finish in which riders will complete three passes through downtown, expectations are high.

“We’re anticipating 50,000 people in that downtown, eight-block area,” said Tom Osborne, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. “It’s going to be one of the largest events downtown that we’ve seen in a long time. Of course, it will be great for the businesses and economic impact.”

Osborne said restaurants and hotels should both get a boost from the event.

“We purchase about 640 or 650 room nights just for the staff coming in,” he said. “Because this is the only stage that has a circuit, we anticipate thousands of people coming in from out of town and they have to stay someplace.”

Chelsy Murphy, public relations manager for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Friday arrival should make a difference with hotel bookings

“We’re hoping that having them Friday night rather than middle of the week really helps with lodging,” she said.

Local hotels saw occupancy rates drop nearly 15 percent in July compared with July 2011, in the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon fire, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report, so showing off the area to an international audience will provide a welcome boost to the tourism industry’s recovery efforts, said Murphy.

“It doesn’t hurt that it will be broadcast nationally and internationally, in terms of people seeing the beauty of the area after the fire,” she said.

Hunter said everything is in place for the race to be a success for riders, fans, sponsors and the host communities.

“I think we had good success the first year,” Hunter said. “I think it will be even stronger in year two, now that people outside Colorado know the event and know how exciting it is.”

The inaugural Challenge produced $83.5 million in economic impact throughout Colorado, Hunter said, and that’s likely to climb this year with greater awareness and participation.

“I think you’re going to see a pretty big infusion of tourists this year,” he said.

In addition to the race itself, organizers are planning community bicycle rides every day this week and there will be live music and fireworks and other entertainment downtown on Friday.

Once the race moves on to Golden on Saturday, local cycling organizers and fans will have to start thinking about next year. The race changes courses each year, so there’s no guarantee the Springs will always host a stop, although Hunter said the city will be in the mix.

“We like the fact it’s a big market, so I think it will always be a priority community,” Hunter said.

Osborne said the key to getting the event to return is pretty simple:

“We just have to make it fun,” he said. “It has to be fun for the spectator and fun for the athletes that come.”

Contact Andrew Wineke: 636-0275 Twitter @awineke

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