The USA Pro Cycling Challenge Spins In
by tess weaver
High times: The peloton climbs Cottonwood Pass to over 12,100 feet during stage two of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Aspen has again been selected as a host city for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the most prestigious cycling race in America. Our town will host the finish of Stage 3 on August 22, as well as the start of Stage 4 on August 23. Referred to as “America’s Race,” the Challenge takes place August 20 to 26 and wends its way through 12 host cities from Durango to Denver. The world’s top cyclists will race through the Rockies and could reach even higher altitudes than in last year’s inaugural competition. More than one million spectators are expected to line the route to see if American Levi Leipheimer will defend his title. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, emphasizing the event’s positive impact on tourism, has proclaimed race week as the “Colorado Cycling Holiday.” “The USA Pro Challenge was an event that shined an international spotlight on Colorado,” Governor Hickenlooper says. “Any expectations we had for success were surpassed ten-fold.”
But even for a world-class event like the USA Pro Challenge, Aspenites are not content to stand on the sideline. That’s why companies such as Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) and Western Spirit Cycling Adventures (WSCA) are offering amateurs a chance to experience the race firsthand, while taking in some spectacular scenery.
CTS bills its “USA Pro Challenge Race Experience” as “seven of the most challenging days you’ll ever spend on your bike,” offering the opportunity to “eat, sleep, ride, and live like a pro cyclist.” Participants will work together as a team, riding each stage and pushing to stay ahead of the pro peloton, or main group of riders. CTS founder Chris Carmichael will ride with the amateurs, as they stay in team hotels and dine alongside racers. Riders must apply to take part in the challenge, done to ensure that each rider is equal to the physical demands; once you’re accepted, the experience will set you back a cool $10,500.
“With the altitude and the length of the climbs in Colorado, this promises to be the hardest race experience to date,” says Carmichael, a former pro cyclist and erstwhile coach of cycling legend Lance Armstrong. “It’s an insider’s view of what it’s like to live and work as a professional cyclist.”
Moab-based Western Spirit Cycling Adventures, named one of the best adventure travel companies in the world by National Geographic Adventure, will offer a race experience for the rest of us. For a $3,800 fee, the eight-day, fully supported trip follows the general race route, but because of road closures and time constraints (like not wanting to wake up at 5 am each day and race the peloton), the rides won’t precisely mimic every stage. Instead, the group will watch some starts and finishes, and catch some stages mid-route.
On Day 4, for instance, WSCA will shuttle from Crested Butte to the race start in Gunnison, then join the race route in Buena Vista before peddling up Independence Pass to view the Queen Stage from the switchbacks. Following the peloton, the group will descend to Aspen for a night on the town. The next day, participants will follow the racers back over Independence Pass, from Aspen to Leadville, but then shuttle to Breckenridge, providing a race-day experience that is challenging but not as grueling.
“We have connections in all the mountain towns and will benefit by not just knowing the routes, but also by knowing where the attacks will happen and where to position ourselves in that finishing mile,” WSCA co-owner Mark Sevenoff says.
Rides will vary from 50 to 70 miles per day, and guides can create custom routes depending on ability levels. In Crested Butte, participants will have VIP tent access to watch the hilltop finish. There is a fee for access to the hospitality tent at each start and finish area, with flatscreen TVs and gourmet cuisine for guests. The Start Line VIP Hospitality area is in close proximity to “Autograph Alley” and offers a look at the official sign-in process. A limited number of private suites are also available in select finish cities, providing a place to entertain and a view of the finish line.
photography by Doug Pensinger