Chris Johnson ColoradoanWritten by Chris Johnson for the Coloradoan, republished with permission. 

Last winter, shortly after we learned Northern Colorado had been selected to host Stage 6 of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge but before the news was made public, I was working at the Cross of the North Cyclocross Race.

An acquaintance asked about our bid and mentioned he’d worked on a local team for a previous stage. Naturally, I was curious to pick his brain about the experience.

“They run a pretty tight ship and they know what they’re doing. The best thing you can do is just do what they ask and stay out of the way,” was the extent of his reply.

I found this response unsatisfying. Not because I didn’t believe the race’s organizers would know what they were doing, but rather because of the idea of reducing an opportunity like this to what sounded like loaning your house to a big company to throw a party and resigning yourself to cleaning up afterward.

As just one member of a bigger team, my goals for getting involved with USA Pro Challenge were a bit loftier, maybe even wide-eyed. But I saw it as an opportunity to rally our world-class cycling community — the same community that was the engine for Fort Collins recognition as a Platinum Level Bike Friendly Community — behind a common cause. I wanted to use our moment on the world’s stage to share our vision of what a bike community can accomplish.

I didn’t just ignore my friend’s advice; I kept it in the back of my head, as a cautionary tale. I thought of our audiences for the race — the international cycling fans who had probably never seen (or even heard of) Northern Colorado, the tens of thousands of visitors from around the state, country and world who would visit our town centers and natural areas for the day. I thought of our community, many of whom were indifferent, or even antipathetic, toward cycling but whose roads would nonetheless be crowded and closed. I thought of business owners who would feel the short-term impact of the event, even as we assured them of the value of its long-term impact.

It was my goal, as one member of a well-rounded, diverse team with many overlapping but distinct interests to make sure at every step that we helped facilitate an event that belonged to Northern Colorado. We wanted an event done by the community, not to the community.

This commitment manifested in many ways. We mobilized an aggressive notification and awareness campaign, executed largely by local volunteers to spread information about the race and its impact on travel. We programmed an extensive series of ancillary events, from spectator 101 meetings, to kids racing at the start, to a world-class professional women’s criterium, hosted and organized by our own local women’s cycling program Fort Follies.

We worked with local shops and clubs and teams, as well as Larimer County park rangers to make sure all high-volume spectator areas were “hosted” by locals, who were charged with setting the tone for the festivities, as well as cleaning up afterwards.

Probably most significantly, the race was a test of Northern Colorado’s most precious resource. The volunteer demands of a 115-mile race that passes literally hundreds of intersections and even more driveways and businesses, as well as featuring huge public festivals at the start, finish and in each city along the route are mind-boggling. Volunteer coordinator Dan Porter rallied more than 700 volunteers for race day. This labor force, had they counted as employees, would have put the organizing committee among the top 10 largest employers in Northern Colorado on race day.

Volunteer spirit is the backbone of the cycling community in NoCo, and this was the community’s biggest test, and moment to shine. Reports from law enforcement and race officials suggest this was among the safest, best-staffed courses they’ve ever seen. On the road, at the festivals, running ancillary events, the turquoise blue of our volunteers was ubiquitous.

High-profile events like the USAPC shouldn’t be regarded as a threat or an invasion, but rather as part of positive feedback that generates enthusiasm and attention for our grass-roots culture.

As long as we keep that relationship and communication healthy, as long as the events promote and respect our interests and as long as we deliver on game day, there is no limit to what we can do in NoCo. It all starts not by staying out of the way, but by raising our hands and making it ours.

To all of the volunteers who gave their time and energy and enthusiasm to the USAPC, and to organizer Dan Porter (himself a volunteer), I offer a heartfelt thank you. We’ll see you Sept. 8 at the Cross of the North!

Chris Johnson is a longtime all-weather commuter, recreational endurance cyclist, current category 2 road bike racer and director of Northern Colorado Cycling Events. or visit