Tuesday morning at USA Cycling headquarters, before announcing “the largest mountain bike race Colorado Springs has ever seen,” Micah Rice was roaming the room, at one point stopping to shake hands with a stranger.
Chris Franz introduced himself: “I’m just a random person.”
Just a random person who’s been hitting the local trails for the better part of 15 years. But for Franz and others like him, Tuesday’s announcement was perhaps most meaningful.
“I’ve been waiting for something like this,” he told Rice.
Franz can add the Pikes Peak Apex to his calendar for Sept. 24-27. Rice expects those four days of endurance events to draw top talent to the region’s singletrack-rich foothills waiting for international respect.
With a $50,000 purse dangled, heads are sure to turn.
“We wanted to do that right out of the gate to make a big splash,” Rice told The Gazette.
Mountain bike races have been long tried in the Springs. Rice knows, having overseen some as a former organizer for the sport’s governing body. Many will recall the regular Wednesday night challenges put on by local eccentric Andy Bohlmann, who counts himself responsible for 100-plus events in the region going back to 1992.
The Apex will be different. “A super way to showcase our community,” Bohlmann said. “I’m thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. Micah will do a dynamite job.”
But he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t jealous. Rice is getting the help Bohlmann sought for years.
The Apex has RockShox, the Springs-based sponsor with a global reach as a leading manufacturer of bike suspensions. And it has the city’s support.
Rice got involved about a year ago, when tourism and economic development bigwigs were pondering the prospect of a “world-class” race.
“Maybe that’s the angle it needed to come from, not just, say, the enthusiasts who’ve wanted to see it happen,” Rice said. “Maybe that’s why it hasn’t happened in the past.”
Visit Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Sports Corp are lending “small” but “critical” funds, Rice said. Along with RockShox, the most critical funding is anticipated from the city’s Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax.
The LART committee has approved $85,000, with the thumbs-up still needed from the City Council. That would be a level of backing never attained by grassroots mountain bike races in town.
The nonprofit Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance requested the LART money. The alliance, of nonprofit and for-profit partners, sees the Apex as an economic boon to the region and a potential steward for the future.
“A big focus of this event is to make sure we’re giving back to these trails, with a goal of trying to finish Ring the Peak, with a goal of trying to make sure we can create new trails and maintain existing trails,” Rice said, referring to the decades-long endeavor to complete a loop around America’s Mountain.
“There’s no profit being skimmed off the top here,” he said. “The money is going back into getting ready for next year’s event, the 2021 version, or put straight back into trails through the organizations we’re working with.”
To Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance Executive Director Becky Leinweber, the race is the result of momentum that’s been building around the industry.
“Awareness is growing,” Leinweber said, “and I think our community is starting to figure that out.”
So it seems to Alison Dunlap, whose rise to world championship cycling began here in the 1980s.
“It’s been a slow progression,” she said, citing the city’s reluctance to promote the sport and a conservative population that’s perceived mountain bikers as a renegade bunch.
The Apex could shift the culture, Dunlap said. And, she added with a smile: “This would be the one event that might pull me out of retirement.”
The entry fee is set at $385 each for the 350 athletes expected. The $50,000 purse would be split between men and women, with winnings spread deep.
“Several thousand for the winner, male and female,” Rice said, “but we want that person in 20th place or 25th place to be battling it out to win some money back, too. We want the top pros to come, but we’re definitely looking at that next group.”
That next group being the local amateurs and weekend warriors who know the trails best and see a chance at glory. Rice expects Olympic-caliber riders, but he declined to give names.
And he was short on course details. The idea is to start Thursday with a prologue, a warm-up at a city preserve.
“We’re working with parks and rec on where that’s going to be,” Rice said.
He’s working with the U.S. Forest Service and other land managers on the weekend stages. The local Forest Service officer who handles permits could not be reached, but stakeholders have been sent preliminary maps for approval.
Talks have entailed 30- to 50-mile days with thousands of feet of climbing starting from the city. Aid stations would be set up throughout the courses, Rice said. One might follow Gold Camp and Old Stage roads to prime singletrack in Jones Park. Another might follow Rampart Range Road to other trails around Rampart Reservoir.
Permitting is among logistics yet to be nailed down — nothing Rice isn’t familiar with, having run sanctioned events for almost 10 years.
“There’s no major red flags that have been thrown up by anybody at this point,” he said.
For what it’s worth, Bohlmann said, he never had a problem getting clearances from the federal level down to private landowners. It’s complicated, he said, “but Micah knows what he’s doing.”
Still, it might be premature to get too excited. “Any cycling event in general, the rug can get pulled out from these events so quickly,” Dunlap said.
The Apex’s survival might depend on an elite turnout, she said, giving it a vital level of prestige.
Local pro Russell Finsterwald, for one, was excited.
“I can’t wait,” he told Tuesday’s crowd. “Racing in my own backyard, showing everybody the amazing trails we have here.”
Over in the corner, a far less decorated racer shared the excitement.
“For some reason, Colorado Springs has always been left out of these discussions,” Franz said.
“I think we as a community are finally making the decision (that) we need to go do this. So this is fantastic.”