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
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
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.
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
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.
Olaf Pollack sprint victory Stage 7 Tour of California (click on photo for
larger image) Photo Mark
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
Chris Aronholt Interview:
The Man Behind
the Tours Part 1