According to the Tour of Utah website, the impact of last year's race was $17.5 million -- the sum of all incremental sales related to the tour -- a figure Brad Petersen, Utah's Director of Outdoor Recreation, said couldn't have been foreseen when the tour began in 2004. But the growth has Petersen, the state's top recreation official, eager to capitalize on cycling's statewide popularity boom. Governor Gary Herbert and the state legislature created the Office of Outdoor Recreation last year to promote economic development in the outdoor industry.
"Cycling in the state of Utah is huge and continuing to grow," Petersen said. "So the tour is continuing to build. It's grown up with the increase of cycling in the state. They've been very fortunate to kind of hit this wave that they're currently in."
Petersen expects the financial impact of this year's event to be north of $20 million. At least some of that will be felt locally, as the tour's fifth stage was set to finish in Kamas Friday and the seventh and final stage was slated to begin and end Sunday in Park City.
"That's pretty significant," Petersen said. "And when you look at what that does for all these small communities, whether it's Kamas or Parowan or Park City, there are tremendous economic benefits."
Bill Malone, President and CEO of the Park City Chamber of Commerce, said he is hopeful the race will drive overnight visitation to the city over the weekend.
"It's a rolling postcard," Malone said. "The fact we're on national television showing cycling in a beautiful area. People will want to come here."
Research the Utah Office of Economic Development conducted has uncovered one of the secrets of how the tour has expanded cycling's popularity so quickly in the state. Children watching develop an interest in cycling and end up motivating their parents to start cycling, as well, converting a whole family to the sport. And it's Petersen's goal to ensure those who pick up cycling remain active for the rest of their lives.
"As we continue to develop our recreational infrastructure, you can basically ride from the time you can get on a bike at 3 years old, until you're 95," Petersen said. "I fully support creating sports for life - something you can do through high school, college and beyond when you have a family."
Apart from the direct economic impact of the Tour of Utah, it also is pushing recreational tourism within the state. Petersen said people who follow the tour are reminded of the outdoor destinations Utah has to offer. While in the past, the tour was isolated to Northern Utah, the race expanded last year to Southern Utah, giving viewers and attendees a glimpse of that area's recreational opportunities, as well.
Petersen has talked to several people who have decided to stay in-state for family vacations after watching the tour. That's especially helpful at a time when the state is encouraging people to visit recreational areas other than national parks more often, something Petersen believes the tour promotes better than anything else.
"I think Utahns are starting to realize they don't have to travel all over (the country) to see amazing places," he said.
As the popularity of cycling continues to grow, its impact will also be felt in other recreational areas -- in effect helping to create a culture and economy that builds on itself, Petersen said. People who get hooked on one type of outdoor recreation typically end up also spending their dollars on other forms of recreation.
"When you're down in Bryce (Canyon National Park) for biking, maybe then you want to go boating or play a round of golf," Petersen said. "Outdoor and recreational activities build on each other and proliferate each other."
The expansion of Utah's recreational infrastructure also has some unexpected benefits. As more people flock to Utah for its recreational opportunities, businesses will follow.
"A lot of companies, like Goldman Sachs and others are moving to Utah because they have this core young workforce that wants to come here and ski and to bike and do all these different things," Petersen said.
Now that the Tour of Utah has helped the popularity of cycling in the state penetrate the mainstream, the sport will continue to be a fertile ground for economic growth, Petersen said. The next step is fostering that popularity.
Petersen's office works with the state legislature to fund trail development, with UDOT to plan new roads that have adequate space for bikers and with the Utah Highway Patrol to ensure laws protecting bikers are enforced. The goal is to give as many people access to cycling -- on paved roads and in the mountains -- as possible to ensure the sport continues to flourish.
"There's a statewide comprehensive effort to make sure cycling is safe and that it continues to grow," Petersen said. " All of these activities around cycling do wonders for communities. They create this cohesive bond for communities and gets them out and working together."