As an avid cycling fan with my cowbell in hand, I set out to write about the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which welcomes 127 of the world’s top cyclists to ride nearly 600 miles across some of Colorado’s most acclaimed mountain passes and scenery. After German cyclist Jens Voigt’s breakthrough success as @thejensie on Twitter, capturing 48,097 followers since his first tweet on July 11 during the Tour de France, I figured online audiences would be hungry for information about this inaugural race that revisits many of the routes traveled during Colorado’s last great stage race, the Coors Classic.
But as I started to catch up on some of the latest online updates, including @schleckfrank of Luxembourg missing his one-year wedding anniversary to race in Colorado, I noted a slightly different story – one with social media lessons for others planning to take their brands online and reach audiences worldwide.
First, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is scheduled at the same time as the Vuelta a España, Spain’s version of the Tour de France. Fielding riders at multiple events at the same time is common in pro cycling; however, for a first-time event, it’s tough to compete with one of the top cycling events in the world as you try to build awareness amongst loyal cycling fans.
But the good news is that all of the podium finishers from this year’s Tour de France opted to head to Colorado instead of Spain, so the scheduling issue isn’t a huge point, just worth noting as Twitter fans have developed an alternative hashtag for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge #notthevuelta. Let’s face it – we all know its better to be known for what you are than what you’re not.
In fact, Twitter fans are using a number of hashtags for this week’s event. The official #uspro is being used by race organizers @usaprochallenge. But several others have cropped up on the first day of the race including #thatraceinCO, #usprocc, #usaprocc and #usapro – the preference of the local Colorado broadcast news media.
Unfortunately, it’s not a good sign when brands and the media covering them are out of sync. As a result, race organizers, sponsors, media and online audiences may loose out on the concentration of information that results from a well-optimized hashtag.
Perhaps some of the confusion is stemming from the fact that race organizers had a hard time pinning down a name for this event, which was first known as the Quizno’s Pro Challenge and was rumored to have gone through a few other options since @lancearmstrong first connected with former Governor Bill Ritter to secure the world-class event for Colorado. Thankfully, online mockery about the name, limited mountain-top finishes and the fact that co-founder Armstrong was in Texas, not Colorado, for the first two days of the event are being overcome by an outstanding field of cyclists and a first-class online experience that includes a fully optimized mobile website featuring the Shack Tracker and Map My Ride virtual cycling challenge to benefit Spokes of Change.
Stage one winner @levileipheimer is joined by a strong field of world-class riders who are using their Twitter feeds, Facebook profiles and blogs to share their experiences in Colorado with cycling fans from around the world. Despite some of the hurdles inevitably faced by a new event of this magnitude, the online chatter is significant and if everyone can figure out the right hashtag, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is bound to be #trending in Denver as the final stage rolls onto Speer Boulevard next Sunday.