As the riders of the four-day Merco Cycling Classic whizzed through Merced last week, one thing became clear: It's a first-class event the community can and should be very proud of.
It attracted a large group of the top-notch cyclists and their support teams, who recognized the value of attending an event that has grown in importance to the sport over the years.
The race introduced, or reintroduced, them to Merced, giving riders and teams -- especially those housed with area families -- a chance to experience the kind of hospitality that brings them back year after year.
While it's important that those the event attracts spend their dollars here, that's just a small part of what it does for the community.
More importantly the Merco Cycling Classic raises the profile of Merced among those who come to ride, support or just spectate. They take their great experience with them when they leave and use it to spread the word about what a great place this is -- on lots of levels.
It's builds the brand, if you will, at a time when cities and counties everywhere are competing very hard to attract businesses. And it shows what Merced can do, on its own, by delivering a first-class event and raising its profile in the process.
Much of the credit goes to Merco's main man, Doug Fluetsch, and his peloton of volunteers. But he couldn't have done it without the cooperation of the city and county of Merced, administrators and staff who did what was necessary to make it happen.
There's lots of hype attached to Amgen Tour of California bike race, which in previously years has visited Merced and other towns in the region. While future visits would be great for Merced, the Merco Cycling Classic and all that goes with it provides an experience that's every bit as valuable -- fun, compelling, entertaining.
As cyclists flew around the Downtown Grand Prix circuit on Saturday, against the backdrop of stately old courthouse building, it was a reminder that things created and nurtured organically can grow into something very special, like the Merco Cycling Classic.