Bigger than Jubilee?

July 03, 2003 11:00 pm

Clean shaven — their legs, that is — and clad in jerseys and tights, the racers in the second annual Elkhorn Classic bicycle stage race lined up last month in Baker City for three days of racing.

Who knew it would be such a tough act to follow?

Sure, Baker City needed a strong June event to round out the summer schedule.

After Memorial Day, many merchants and hotels have to wait for the Fourth of July and the Miners Jubilee for another dose of tourism dollars.

The Elkhorn Classic fills the gap.

But what we're hearing from merchants and restaurateurs defies expectations. Dollar wise, for many businesses the Elkhorn Classic was bigger than Miners Jubilee.

An estimated 1,000 people visited Baker City, including 300 racers and their families and friends.

And it appears people with the discipline to train in order to race a 19-pound bike 109 miles also have money to spend when they are on vacation.

Certainly, there is room for improvement. In its second year, the race hit a few snags.

Problem: When downtown streets were closed for the Leo Adler Day parade and Stage 3 of the race, the Gold Rush Criterium, some motorists missed the goldenrod signs informing them that they would be towed after 10 p.m. Saturday morning. Some hard feelings ensued.

Solution: More and larger signs, and an earlier closure of the streets to motor vehicles.

Certainly, an earlier closure would further restrict motorized access to Main Street businesses. But even with the streets closed to cars, Main Street was arguably more full of people due to the parade and race than it would have been had the street remained open.

Problem: The mountaintop finish on Dooley Mountain left many racers riding home another 19 miles into the wind on top of a 109-mile stage.

Solution: Organizer Nathan Hobson needs to invite Community Connection and local churches to offer vans for rent or loan to help shuttle riders from any finishes outside Baker City.

Problem: Only 1,000 people?

Solution: Advertise the Gold Rush Criterium to a Boise audience, where the Twilight Criterium and the now-defunct Women's Challenge have built a bicycle racing audience in our neighbor two hours to the east.

Ultimately, the Classic is an excellent addition to a solid summer schedule, building on the host appeal of Baker City that helps make events like Jubilee, the Memory Cruise and the East-West Shrine Game succeed.

And it begs the question: Will the Classic be bigger than Jubilee? Or is domestic tourism on the uptick in America due to conditions abroad?

In other words, will Jubilee be bigger than Jubilee?

We shall see.