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The Man Behind the Tours Part 1
 
By Staff
Date: 5/2/2006
The Man Behind the Tours Part 1
 

The Man Behind the Tours Part 1
An interview of Chris Aronhalt,Vice Managing Partner of  Medalist Sports with Dave Shields  discussing the Tours of California and Georgia and growth of stage races in North America.

By Dave Shields

The domestic cycling scene has lately experienced explosive growth. Lance Armstrong’s success gave things a jump start, but it’s the quality of the race experiences that really seems to be fueling the fire. From the operational side of things a four year old company called Medalist Sports has assumed one of the most prominent roles in driving this growth.


Chris Aronhalt addresses course marshalls in Augusta

I spent a good chunk of the final day of the 2006 Ford Tour de Georgia with Event Coordinator and Medalist Sports Vice-President of Operations, Chris Aronhalt. In the three years I’ve attended the race, nearly every person I’ve spoken to within the event organization has referenced Chris and his vision for both the Tour de Georgia and for American cycling in general. I’ve been anxious to hear how he’s become such a key figure in the domestic cycling scene, and looked forward to learning where he sees the sport going from here.
(Editors note: this interview was done at the conclusion of the Tour of Georgia.)

Shields: In the last three years you guys have literally revolutionized bicycle racing in America because of the opportunities with Lance Armstrong and what’s gone on after that. How in the world did you get involved with organizing bicycle races?

Aronhalt: Well, I was involved in the Tour DuPont organization, so that being my background, in 2002 when the state of Georgia had the vision to start a professional stage race with the same benefits and excitement as the Tour de France they kind of put the call out to those who were qualified. I answered the call. I started in January of 2003. So obviously, with four months to go, the first year, like all first year events, was challenging. But it’s been a good, good ride.

Shields: Yeah. It’s been incredible. So essentially they just said, “We need somebody to run our bicycle race, and you applied for the position.”

Aronhalt: Right. And I became an employee working for the state of Georgia. Kind of with an outlook and focus solely on the tour.


Lance Armstrong on Brasstown Bald 2004
Photo c. Celia Cole and www.dailypeloton.com

Shields: Wow. And then, in only your second year, Lance Armstrong starts looking for a bicycle race because he wants to do some training in America.

Aronhalt: Right.

Shields: At one point, from what I recall, it looked like Tour of the Gila was going to be the race he was going to do.

Aronhalt: Yeah. We got a call… umm… gosh, I think that year it was around February. No, it was more like March, confirming that he was going to be in. And then in 2005 it was around December. So, obviously the race has now provided a great opportunity for the Pro Tour teams and riders as they focus on the Tour de France and other big races.

Shields: So since Lance didn’t commit to the 2004 race until March, and you were holding it in April, did all the other Pro Tour teams sign on after Lance committed or where they….

Aronhalt: No, no. They had already been invited.

Shields: And they’d already accepted the invitations?

Aronhalt: Yeah. Being at that point a 2.1 UCI event you have to have five international teams. We were fortunate that our five were all Pro Tour, based on the race organization and reputation.

Shields: You didn’t have any Pro Tour teams your first year, did you?

Aronhalt: No. Well, you know at that time in 2003 there was no Pro Tour, so we had Division 1 teams. Gosh, first year is hard to remember. We did have Postal, so we had some international teams.

Shields: What sort of logistical changes did you have to make from the point that Lance signed on to be part of the event?

Aronhalt: Well, in 2004 there weren’t changes on his behalf but we did consult with him. Obviously we wanted to make sure that the course was providing what he needed from a technical standpoint, so we actually changed… added a mountain stage and lengthened the time trial course so it was more of what he would be facing in France. It was more input, though. It wasn’t demands.

Shields: Right.

Aronhalt: So obviously, now we’re on a roll with the race’s reputation and notoriety. Not only from a competition standpoint with all the top Pro Tour teams that want to be here, but obviously with the sponsors of those teams like this year with Quick Step tied in with Mohawk Carpet, so it obviously was a win/win from that standpoint. But we have big visions for the tour to keep up the tradition. We want to grow either in number of days, or to continue to grow geographically. We certainly won’t stop or rest on our laurels.

Shields: So, by geographically do you see it extending into more states beyond Georgia?

Aronhalt: Yeah, still patterned a little bit after the Tour de France. I think we had a good experiment, if you will, dipping into Chattanooga, Tennessee this year, and that was a great city for us. We’ll certainly look at other states and other cities such as Jacksonville, Charolette, Greenville, and Birmingham. Obviously the focus will always be on Georgia, but in terms of expanding the markets and spectators and footprint of the race, we’ve got grand plans.


Saunier Duval's Marco Pinotti and team mate on Brasstown Bald.
Photo c. Peter Ozolins

Shields: Is Brasstown Bald always going to be a signature stage?

Aronhalt: That’s a good question. I was thinking about that this morning. After this year it certainly has become legendary.

Shields: Yeah, I’d say!

Aronhalt: We always want to change up the course every year, so from that aspect maybe not always having it within the race itself. You know Brass… You know… We’ll have to wait and see.


Floyd Landis & Tom Danielson on the "Bald"
Photo c Peter Ozolins

Shields: Maybe a time-trial up Brasstown one year.

Aronhalt: Yeah!  (Laughter from both of us. What a stage it would be!)

Shields: So switching gears, the Tour of California was a couple years in coming and now you’ve got that race in your stable, too.

Aronhalt: Yeah. We’re the operational arm. We managed and produced the Tour of California. We also have a license to operate the US Pro National Championships which will be Labor Day Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina. We’re obviously proud of the hard work and experience that we’ve had throughout the years with the Tour du Ponte, Tour de Georgia, and now California.

Shields: So literally, in a span of four years, the sport is exploding in America and you’re involved in all the big new developments.

Aronhalt: Right. All the big tours. There are other big one day races, but the tours are obviously what we specialize in terms of the production and the relationships.

Dave Shields is the author of the bestselling and Benjamin Franklin Award Winning novel, The Race. His recently released sequel, The Tour, is receiving similar praise. By special arrangements with the publisher, the Daily Peloton has made copies available here.

Part 2 will  be published later today.

 
Related Articles
Tour of Georgia - Saunier Duval/Prodir Team Profile
Tour of Georgia - History 2003 to 2005
Tour de Georgia Stage 5 Report and Photos

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