By Bill Plock
Denver, Nov 8th–Funny how things often come full circle. In 1985 Claire Martin of The Denver Post was riding along a rolling cornfield in Iowa with about 12,000 other bicyclist and had a thought she shared in the book “30 years of Colorado Cycling Tradition, Ride the Rockies.” She wrote, “Looking around I thought that if people flocked to Iowa to ride farm roads past corn and soybean fields—and the occasional aromatic hog farm—then a week long bicycle tour of Colorado was a no brainer.”
She then schemed on how to get her employer The Denver Post to sponsor it. Just like the Des Moines Register sponsored RAGBRAI.
A year later in 1986, starting in Grand Junction and ending in Denver, Ride the Rockies was born.
Yesterday, at long time sponsor Primal Wear’s home office the two rides announced being part of the same team. It’s still associated with the Des Moines Register, now owned by mass media conglomerate Gannett which owns an event production company called Ventures Endurance who owns RAGBRAI and now Ride the Rockies. Ventures Endurance claims to be worlds largest producer of organized endurance events including among many running events, the popular Hot Chocolate Runs.
So in this forever consolidating landscape of business this felt nothing like a corporate “land grab” so to speak. It felt like a natural progression of new leadership with similar history, mission, vision and desire to keep it feeling organic and fun. RAGBRAI started in 1973 very organically when two editors of the Register wanted to share stories riding their bikes across Iowa. Almost 50 years later it’s the worlds largest cycling event.
Tracy Ulmer, Director of the The Denver Post Foundation has taken her final pull and now Dieter Drake will lead the peleton into the future. Drake took over directing RAGBRAI in 2021 and will handle both events from his home in Castle Rock. Says Drake, “there is this natural connection of Colorado and Iowa, it seems like so many people here are from there or have roots there, and so many Iowans aspire to ride bikes here.”
When asked why now, Ulmer said, “The Foundation felt like it was time to move the event leadership over to a more specialized, resourceful, respected and trusted organization in order for it to develop and continue to grow its legacy status within the event space.”
Said Drake, “we wanted to make history with adding such a quality multi-day ride and the timing was perfect. For us, first and foremost our goal is to put on a safe ride but after that we really want to showcase the state of Colorado; the towns and stories of the state. Like we do in Iowa. With Gannett’s media reach we think we can attract more riders and help tourism in towns that don’t always see a lot of tourists. I’m just excited to get started. We have a route in mind and need to start the permitting process and hope to have a route announcement party in mid-January”
These events couldn’t be more different but yet so similar. Both rides are usually between 350 and 450 miles, involve camping and challenge most cyclist—but maybe in different ways. RAGBRAI is the worlds largest cycling event with days sometimes exceeding 40,000 riders. Its known more for its party like atmosphere and infamous food providers like Mr. Pork Chop and Spam on a stick. You see people riding all kinds of bikes, even rollerblades. Stopover towns generally have large concerts and a rolling village. The demographics are vastly different but the intention of having fun on a bike is exactly the same.
When asked what they hope each organization brings the other, Ulmer said, “RTR will benefit from the fantastic organization and resources that RAGBRAI has, whether it’s logistics, sponsorship, marketing, staffing, volunteers, vendors, etc. Having that all in place will benefit the rider experience infinitely. They are somewhat different events demographically but cyclists are also open to a wide variety of fun cycling experiences, so we anticipate a great deal of excitement from riders on both events.
Drake reiterated the desire to showcase towns and added that with about 35% of RTR participants being out of state, “we think with our reach in so many audiences we can have a positive impact on drawing more out of state riders.”
When asked if he ever sees the ride utilizing any routes in the Rockies not in Colorado (it is Ride the Rockies after all), he paused, and said, “thats an interesting idea. It certainly won’t happen anytime soon, but who knows what we may add in down the road. We just want to focus on making sure in 2022 riders have a safe, fun and exciting experience.”
Ulmer has been leading the charge for many years and always loves riding the tour and when asked about what is most exciting for her about this change she said, “This is a fantastic opportunity to watch to RTR grow and develop into a world class event with the leadership and resources it needs. And to continue to bring the amazing experience of the ride to thousands. The Ventures Endurance team, under Dieter’s expert guidance and leadership will assure that – and I am looking forward to riding in June 2022!!!”