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

The Man Behind the Tours Part 2
2nd part of Dave Shield's interview with Chris Aronhalt, Managing Partner of† Medalist Sports discussing the Tour of California and USA National Championships.

By Dave Shields

Shields: Your involvement in the Tour of California is a different sort of deal than here in Georgia.

Aronhalt: With Georgia we are also responsible for the sales and marketing, and the PR, in addition to the operational and technical. In California we partner with AEG, Anschutz Entertainment Group, who handle all those aspects and we justÖ not just, but we just handle the technical and operational side.

Shields: Whatís your vision for the Tour of California. It certainly was an unbelievable success this year. Did you expect it to be that big?

Aronhalt: Well, everybody knew it was going to be big, because itís California, but I donít think any of us in our wildest dreams thought it would be that big the first year. The weather obviously cooperated and set the stage for eight days of a great time. So the vision is to work on that success. AEG will work on the grand plan and our focus on that race is to continue to create a safe event that is a win/win for the communities and provides the right sort of platform for the sponsors.

Gilberto Simoni of Saunier Duval at the start of the Tour of California
Photo c. Mark Adkison

Shields: Do you see that event being solidified in a February position or are you looking for a different calendar position.

Aronhalt: For at least right now the event is happy with the days it has. Itís a nice front end to the season. It was a great fit for teams like Discovery and CSC who had training camps there. Discovery has their camp in Solvang and CSC moved theirs from Europe to California, so itís a good win/win from that standpoint. Also, the time of year in terms of hotel vacancies and rates is in our favor.

Shields: I hadnít thought about that part. So you see California continuing as a week long stage race?

Aronhalt: Yeah. Right now the business plan is certainly to remain at eight days. Just like Gerogia, thereíll always be consideration about expansion.

Davitamon/Lotto lead the peloton in stage 7 of the Tour of California in Redondo beach. Click on photo for larger image. Photo Mark Akison Ph.D.

Shields: Does it present any special challenges to bring the Pro Tour teams over to America twice a year. We havenít had the opportunity to see many of those teams over here at all and now weíre seeing some of them twice.

Aronhalt: Thereís certainly always that consideration, but at the same time the Pro Tour teams - they carry 24 or 27 riders - so the confidence is there that we can attract some of those big name teams and that each race will always have stars. Maybe not always the same ones. Itís just so unique in a really fantastic way to have so many top American stars. Obviously they want to be here in the United States and race in these events, like Floyd this year. Unfortunately for us going into Georgia there were a lot of injuries. George Hincapie was planning to be here.
So I know the teams and the sponsors are happy to have two big platforms like Georgia and California. Itís a good time for cycling.

Shields: What are you hearing from the sponsors on a marketing standpoint? Do they feel like theyíre getting the bang for the buck they need?

Aronhalt: Yeah, certainly. The media, the TV coverage, the Internet hits. The teams are definitely pleased with the turnout. We know that theyíre very pleased with the organization. As long as those two continue theyíll obviously want to continue to ride.

Shields: Are you hearing from some additional teams that havenít been over here yet?

Aronhalt: Yeah. There are definitely other Pro Tour teams that would like to be in both events. Both events have their business plans in terms of how many teams per the UCI. Both Georgia and California can only have 50% of their field as Pro Tour teams, so California hit its limit with eight and we are pleased with our six Pro Tour teams in Georgia and also the wonderful ride opportunities created for a few more domestic teams such as Target Training.

T-Mobile's Olaf Pollack sprint victory Stage 7 Tour of California (click on photo for larger image) Photo Mark Akison Ph.D.

Shields: And the domestic teams have shown well. Youíve got a couple of domestic riders pretty high on GC.

Aronhalt: Yeah. Nathan OíNeil with Health Net. Obviously, heís always been very strong, and this being his back yard. You have Cesar (Grajales) of Navigators with a strong showing yesterday on Brasstown. Itís obviously important for the bigger events in the United States to partner with and support those teams. Obviously some teams were not invited, but itís a good thing that they have something to shoot for every year.

Health Net's Nathan O'Neil Tour of California Photo c. Vaughn Trevi

Shields: Then in addition to all this, we mentioned it a little bit earlier, you now have the Pro Championships.

Aronhalt: Yep. U. S. Pro National Championships.

Shields: Itís going to be a major change because now itís Americans only.

Aronhalt: Two big changes. Itís an American only field. USA Cycling felt it was pretty important to have the Americans solely compete, keep it exclusive. And the second big change resulting from feedback from the top riders was to make it a season ending type event, not only to compliment their schedulesóin June and July theyíre focused on France itís kind of hard to get them here - but now in September it will be a good way to end the season and the champion will get to start the season next year wearing the Stars and Strips all the way through next September, so itís a nice change.

Shields: Have you already been in communication with all of the top American riders?

Aronhalt: We have. Just really loose discussions from George and Levi and Bobby. Theyíre all excited.

Fast Freddy Rodriguez on the podium as top sprinter,†
Tour of Georgia with his child. Photo c. Ben Ross

Shields: How does a guy like Levi react? The changes mean heíll race here without a team.

Aronhalt: Yeah. That will be unique. Obviously a lot of the Pro Tour Americans wonít have a team while some of the domestic teams like a TIAA CREF will. Weíll see how it shakes down.

Shields: Thatís going to be exciting because some of the top cyclists are going to be the ones who are most on their own.

Aronhalt: Yep.

Shields: Are the courses are all set at this point or do you still have some decisions to make?

Aronhalt: Weíre still working with the state of South Carolina, the county, and the city of Greenville. Weíve got our initial road course designed which includes Paris Mountain.

Shields: How hard a climb is that.

Aronhalt: Itís a decent climb. It will be a similar format to Philadelphia with about eight circuits each about 20 miles long

Shields: And then the time-trial course?

Aronhalt: The time-trial will be on that Friday, between 20 and 25 miles, and it will be more than likely held outside of the city limits, away from the traffic in the South Carolina countryside.

Shields: I canít wait to see it. You mentioned the road course has one big climb in it. Is that going to make it a really selective race or might we see a bunch sprint.

Aronhalt: I think itíll certainly make it a competitive race. Obviously, we wanted to select a course that had all the aspects in terms of climbing and technical turns, which it actually does have, and then also long enough for some of the breakaways to happen. So we feel weíve accomplished that with a competitive course that includes the Greenville community.

Podium girl waits her cue in the Tour de Georgia
Photo c. Ben Ross

Shields: Is the plan to race the exact same course year after year?

Aronhalt: Right now the plan is to partner with the city of Greenville on the same course. Weíll obviously re-evaluate everything after the first year, but at this point itís more of a wait and see.

Shields: How many years is your initial contract?

Aronhalt: Three years with USA Cycling.

Shields: What do you see as the future of American cycling? Weíve had so much success.

Aronhalt: Thereís a lot of interest from other states, looking at the success from California and certainly the Georgia business model, so weíre in discussions regarding other potential events. Our focus is to support USA Cycling and to support the sport of cycling. We see it as our contribution to produce great events for the teams and the spectators. So you never know. Perhaps having as many solid events here in the United States as there are in Europe would be great. Itís a lot of work but we obviously enjoy it.

Chris Aronhalt with Jeff Roake Tour of Georgia Photo c. Ma Sullivan

Shields: Well, itís a lot of fun being part of the events. Thanks a lot, Chris.

Aronhalt: All right.

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.

Chris Aronholt Interview: The Man Behind the Tours Part 1

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