Case Study: Rocky Mountain High: PR Puts the Pedal to the Pavement In Executing a Multi-Stage, 500-Mile Pro Cycling Race

More than 24,000 unique users downloaded the Radio Shack Tour Tracker app across all mobile devices, while 127,000 unique users accessed it via the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Web site.  Image courtesy of Rogers & Cowan

Company: USA Pro Cycling Challenge

Agency: Rogers & Cowan

Timeframe: August 2010 - Sept. 2011

Colorado is not only well-known for its bevy of athletic events and races, but also for its enormous support of amateur cycling. According to a study posted by the Bikes Belong Foundation, cycling is credited for boosting the state’s annual economy by $1 billion. So, it only made sense that in 2010, worldwide cycling legend Lance Armstrong would come together with then Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (with additional support from Quiznos owners Rick and Richard Schaden) with a plan to bring professional cycling back to Colorado. With the hopes of it becoming the most prestigious cycling race in the U.S., on par with the famous Tour de France, and hoping to restore pro cycling to its prestigious height in Colorado, Armstrong, Ritter and the Schadens created the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Pro Challenge). After 23 years without a pro cycling event in the state, a triumphant return was set for 2011.


To help build awareness of the race and create interest not only with avid cyclists, but with the average sports fan as well, Pro Challenge brought on the PR team of Rogers & Cowan.

“Given Rogers & Cowan’s history of working with big brands and sporting events, we thought they would be the perfect agency to handle promotion of the race,” says Brian Farris, chief operating officer, USA Pro Challenge. “We needed to reach cycling fans, as well as a broader audience, and Rogers & Cowan is great at finding unique stories beyond the obvious.”

Pro Challenge approached the Rogers & Cowan team with two main objectives:

1. Draw viewership—including live fans during the race—through TV broadcasts and online streaming,

2. Position the race as a world-class cycling competition, the best in the U.S.

“Their No. 1 objective was to get as many people to watch the race as possible,” explains Nicole Okoneski, director, Rogers & Cowan. The plan was to attract fans to come out to see the race live, build viewership through TV broadcasts and also stream the race over the Internet. Another goal was to raise the profile of American cycling overall and make sure that the race would be seen as one of the top races in the U.S. and therefore, one of the top races in the world.


Okoneski, who had prior experience working on the Amgen Tour of California, took a key role in the campaign. The team researched other high-caliber professional cycling races in the U.S., including the now-defunct Tour de Georgia, and studied past media coverage. They got a sense for which tactics had been successful and which had not. In addition, they took an in-depth look at the sports and cycling media, researching reporters and getting more familiar with key topics.

The team implemented a series of strategies:

• Generate and secure targeted publicity before, during and after the race to heighten public awareness and communicate the stature of the race.

• Produce and distribute background information to key national, regional and trade media outlets to position the race as the most important cycling event in the U.S.

• Create exposure opportunities for sponsors throughout media outreach phases.

• Create unique PR opportunities with human interest appeal by relying on existing notable cycling ambassadors and returning champions.

• Attract fans through exposure in sports, lifestyle, consumer, business and entertainment media outlets.

“Our main strategy was to take as many angles as possible and look at this not just as a professional cycling race but also from other perspectives as well,” explains Okoneski. “We really wanted to focus on the riders as individuals, building them up as celebrities. They aren’t as well known in the U.S. as they are in Europe, but a lot of them are really interesting guys, and there are some great riders from the U.S. So, we wanted to tell those stories and champion those guys as the heroes of professional cycling.”

The first announcement took place in Denver on the steps of the Capitol Building with Governor Ritter and Armstrong, followed by a tweet-up ride along, providing fans with exclusive access to the guests of honor.

After hosting a press conference and cocktail reception with top riders at one of the industry’s biggest trade shows—Interbike—the next big announcement revealed the host cities for the seven-day event. To add another layer, Rogers & Cowan organized an event with NFL Hall of Fame receiver Shannon Sharpe, an avid cyclist himself, with top American finisher in the 2011 Tour de France, Tom Danielson.

In the months leading up to the race, Rogers & Cowan staggered news announcements to generate excitement and maintain ongoing interest. However, well into the execution stages of the campaign, a name change (originally Quiznos Pro Challenge) to USA Pro Cycling Challenge presented a challenge of its own. With the public and media already familiar with Quiznos (which remained a major sponsor), the company agreed to a new name that would allow the race to stand on its own merit.

“We knew that was going to get some attention from the press, and not necessarily positive attention,” says Okoneski. “So, we decided to work that news into another story, to give the press something else to talk about, and we weaved it into our announcement that NBC Sports Broadcast would be our [TV] partner. That way, we made the media aware, but didn’t draw a lot of negative attention to it.”


During race week, the team traveled the race route, maintaining regular PR activities such as consistently securing daily news stories by working closely with media in the press room, at the finish line, in media and team cars, and at the daily awards presentations and press conferences.

Also, for fans not able to watch the race live or on TV, a Tour Tracker app (see the image) provided live commentary, showed the elevation of the mountains and indicated how each of the riders were progressing along the route.

Following the race, the team facilitated wrap-up media inquiries and worked to pitch business press on the overall success of the event.


Campaign results were calculated through a monitoring service for broadcast coverage, Factiva for print coverage and Google alerts/searches for online coverage (in 2012, Cision will handle all tracking). Pro Challenge also commissioned a study conducted by IFM North America, a leading research firm specializing in event and sports data collection and analysis. The results exceeded all expectations:

• More than 1 million spectators came out to watch the race.

• More than 3 billion media impressions were secured worldwide. Multiple pieces featured in prominent media publications including USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Huffington Post, ESPN, Associated Press, Yahoo!, Bloomberg Business Week,,, and more.

• Widespread cycling media showed great support with multiple hits in VeloNews, Cyclingnews and Bicycling.

• Broadcast coverage was secured in 161 countries and territories around the world.

• More than 24,000 unique users downloaded the Tour Tracker across all mobile devices, while 127,000 unique users accessed it via the Web site. It was one of the largest audiences ever to download a Tour Tracker for a cycling event. 

• The estimated economic impact to Colorado was $83.5 million. More than 22% of the spectators came from outside the state.

“For a first-year race, the results were amazing,” says Farris. “We were beyond impressed. We set the bar high, but now we’re looking to take things even further.”

Back for a repeat performance, Rogers & Cowan is in the final preparation stages for the 2012 race, set to begin on August 20 in Durango, Colorado. And while last year’s race reportedly ran smoothly, the team opened up the call for credentials a bit earlier this year. Oh, and those beautiful Colorado Rockies? They don’t allow for smooth cell signals (proving that there is a mountain high enough). To ensure the PR team is reachable at all times, one team will be handling the start lines, while another will advance to the finish earlier in the day. PRN


Nicole Okoneski,; Brian Farris,; Liz Brown,; Steve Brunner,