Montana’s premier cycling race may be on the rocks. The Ecology Center Classic—a Memorial Day staple in the Missoula area for nearly a decade—is sponsoring its eighth and possibly final race this weekend. According to race organizers, high expenses and low participation are threatening the race’s future.
“We lost a ton of money last year,” says race director Steve Dolberg.
Low participation numbers made the $25,000 prize purse and the $6,000 spent on police assistance for the full rolling enclosure a costly endeavor. This year, the race has been scaled down in order to cut logistics cost. Organizers reduced the purse to $10,000 and shrank the length of the race. The elite men and women racers will now race over three days and four stages instead of the previous four days and five stages.
“Basically everyone will be doing the same race except the first day in Phillipsburg the elite men will be doing double the distance,” says Dolberg.
The future of the race depends on the number of cyclists the event can attract, Dolberg says, and attracting riders has become increasingly difficult these days with two major bike races bracketing the Ecology Center Classic.
The Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race took place in Enumclaw, Wash., last weekend, and the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic is next weekend in Oregon. Both races attract cyclists from Seattle and Portland, which makes it difficult to tempt those same racers to Missoula.
Race organizers hoped to attract top professional race teams from around the country with a $25,000 purse in years past, but when the pro teams failed to show, Dolberg says the decision to scale back the race was made.
“It was partly our decision and partly because of other races that have cropped up on the calendar around our race,” says Dolberg.
The race is expected to draw enough cyclists for the event to break even, but Dolberg says it needs more than that to make it worthwhile. As of press time 108 riders were signed up.
Dolberg said he’s hoping to have at least 150 riders this year.
“We won’t run out of room for any riders,” he said “Three-hundred riders would be beyond our wildest dreams for this year.
“A race like this takes a lot of work. We’ve been at it since January,” he said. “Basically, if we don’t get enough interest to make us feel like our efforts were worth it, this could be the last race.”