The economy of Bulloch County should receive a “shot in the arm” when thousands of fans descend on Statesboro to witness the start of stage two of the prestigious Tour de Georgia cycling race.
With stage one time trials being held on Tybee Island the day before, race goers and event staff are expected to pile into Statesboro on the eve of the 11 a.m. stage two start slated for April 22.
“We have a staff of over 50 individuals that come in the night before to set up the start line and equipment associated with that,” said Chris Aronhalt, managing partner of Medalist Sports and event director for the Tour de Georgia. “The biggest impact that the Statesboro area should see will be in the number of spectators that come to Statesboro to see the start of stage two.”
The Tour de Georgia presented by AT&T remains one of the highest ranked stage races outside of Europe with a 2.HC rating from the Union Cycliste Internationale (international governing body of cycling), and was the first race in North America to receive this top rating. It is one of 15 races on the 2008 USA Cycling Professional Tour.
Aronhalt expects several thousand spectators at the start of each stage.
“Last year over 500,000 fans watched the race,” he said. “With Statesboro being a university town, I expect to see as many as 10,000 people turn out for the start.”
There are seven scheduled stages in this year’s race, and this is the first time that Statesboro will serve as a host for one of the stages. Jaime Riggs, executive director of the Statesboro Visitors and Convention Bureau, said she isn’t sure how much of an overall economic impact the race may have, but does expect the vast majority of local hotel rooms to be booked the night before the race.
“I don’t know that the racers and their teams will actually stay here,” Riggs said. “Generally, they finish racing for the day, meet the press, eat dinner, and go to bed. However, the setup crew for the next day and the fans generally go to the next starting point. I expect most of our hotel rooms to be full.”
The Tour de Georgia presented by AT&T has firmly established itself on the international racing calendar as one of the premier tune-up stage races for the Grand Tours of Europe, like the Tour de France. The event has grown from a five-stage race in 2003 to a seven-stage weeklong contest with 600 miles of racing. Last year the Tour challenged 15 of the top U.S. and ProTour professional teams with its longest route, covering 667 miles.
Over 2.8 million spectators have traveled to Georgia to watch the event in the past five years, and the estimated direct economic impact has totaled over $148 million.
Riggs said dollars brought by the race to community are important, but the exposure Statesboro will receive cannot be discounted.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase Statesboro, to show an international audience what a wonderful community we are,” she said. “There will be a tremendous number of media here and pictures and video of Statesboro will be broadcast worldwide.”
Aronhalt said the race will be broadcast live over the internet.“Last year, the race was seen in over 80 countries,” he said. “This is the first year that we have had European and Chinese media request press credentials. We expect over 400 credentialed media. This is a very big deal in the bike racing world.”