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Wheels of fortune 

Colorado Springs had the distinction Monday of hosting the opening phase of the first-ever USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a seven-day race across 518 Colorado miles.

The immediate conclusion: It was a success. But just how big a success will take time to determine, as economic impact studies and official crowd counts become available. Another telltale sign will be whether or not Colorado Springs is chosen again for a race stage next year.

For now, a lot is up in the air. For instance, anyone who attended the race will tell you that there were crowds. Crowds at the finish line ringing cowbells. Crowds at important corners, hollering and jumping up and down. Crowds at the starting area wearing costumes.

How big were those crowds? Who knows?

Some casual observers put the masses at fewer than 10,000 people, while Colorado daily newspapers estimated anywhere from 35,000 to 75,000. Race co-chair Shawn Hunter, who drove the race route several times during the day and has experience planning other bike races, joined other officials in guessing that more than 100,000 had turned out.

Whatever the case, there was no doubting the crowd's enthusiasm.

"The crowd was great today," racer and second-place prologue finisher Christian Vande Velde said at a press conference following the time trial. "It's a Monday afternoon. I didn't know what to expect."

Hunter gave similar praise at that conference, even likening the day to a stage from the Tour de France: "Along the 5.2 miles, there were no patches without fans. And it reminded me, I was very fortunate, I got to ride in a car at the time trial in Grenoble where Cadel [Evans] put on his great performance and put on his yellow jersey, and it reminded me a lot of that."

Hunter said it would be "very difficult to not come back here next year," but wouldn't say for sure whether the Challenge would return to the Springs. That decision will come after a "detailed analysis" in the weeks after the race, which ends Sunday in Denver.

Part of that analysis will include a statewide economic impact study. Local organizers are also planning a study of the prologue's impact on the Springs, based on surveys conducted Monday and at the downtown People's Pedal Party the night before. Those latter results will be available at the end of September.

Local organizer Christina Brodsly, of Vladimir Jones advertising agency, noted that the Crowne Plaza hotel, which hosted the athletes, sold out its 500 rooms on Sunday night. Events associated with the race also did well. For instance, a $200-per-person gala sold all 800 tickets; the Ride of Champions, which cost $495 per person, had around 75 participants; the Pedal Party attracted about 6,000 people; and a Kids on Bikes event saw around 500 families.

Bike enthusiasm was evident even at unaffiliated events. Nearly every seat was full for the U.S. Grand Prix of Sprinting at the 7-Eleven Velodrome in Memorial Park on Sunday night.

During the Pedal Party and the prologue, some downtown restaurants had good crowds. Matt Sharb, general manager of Slayton's Tejon Street Grill, says his restaurant is normally closed Sundays but stayed open last week and was rewarded. Monday was less crowded, and a bit of a disappointment considering Slayton's was a prologue sponsor. But Sharb said that "overall, it was a pretty good event. It definitely brought in extra revenue."

stanley@csindy.com

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