Roanoke is on a roll with bicycling enthusiasts.
Already known as a mountain-biking mecca — earning a rare Silver-Level Ride Center designation from the International Mountain Bicycling Association — Virginia’s Blue Ridge region has broadened its brand by becoming the site of a national bicycling championship this summer and persuading the nation’s premier women’s cycling team to move its operations base from Idaho to Roanoke.
In March, Colorado-based USA Cycling Inc., the national governing body for the sport of cycling, announced that Virginia’s Blue Ridge would host the 2022 Amateur Road National Championships from June 29 to July 2 in Roanoke.
Local economic development officials see gold in them thar bikes.
Landon Howard, president of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the region’s destination marketing organization, estimates that VVBR’s sponsorship of the women’s team will generate an annual economic impact of $23 million
in earned media and brand recognition/impressions for the Roanoke region as the team participates in nearly 25 races around the country, along with local and state events drawing some of the top racers in the world to the region.
The summer amateur road championships are projected to yield another $1.3 million to $1.5 million for the region, Howard says.
When the same event was held in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 2018, it generated direct spending of $1.5 million and drew athletes from 42 states, says Tara McCarthy, USA Cycling’s director of national events, adding that average hotel occupancy was 85.8% during the event.
“Certainly, this is a major economic development strategy,” Howard adds. “We want to use the fact that this team and now these championships that we’re attracting may also attract the interest of business and people that are in the cycling industry.”
The USA Cycling event announcement came just two months after Team TWENTY24 — which has earned 14 Olympic and Paralympic medals, 17 world championships and numerous national championships — said it was setting up shop in the Roanoke area.
The team, renamed Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24, includes six professional athletes, five virtual Zwift eSports athletes and 27 junior athletes from 9 to 17 years old. The “24” in the team’s name refers to the Paris 2024 Olympics.
“There’s no question [that] the cycling industry is growing tremendously throughout the world,” Howard says. “And so, we’re going to be at the top of the game on that.”