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Sideline, and Rooftop, Impressions of the Pro Cycling Challenge

usa-pro-cycling-breckenridge_1Racers in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race by the crowds in Breckenridge Saturday afternoon. Photo by Sydney FoxMy road bike is reserved for training rides to get in miles when the singletrack is too wet or I need some major hours in the saddle, but it’s through mountain bike races that I’ve realized the excitement level associated with high-caliber races. Sharing a trail with some of the best riders in the world is an experience that can’t fully be communicated with words, and for most of the summer I’ve been looking forward to having a taste of that in Colorado with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Catalogs and newspaper stories were circulating as early as May—I even snagged a cowbell at an April mountain bike race with the PCC logo on it. But there was a full week of racing before the PCC would arrive in my town, Breckenridge. At an offer from a friend to head to Crested Butte for Tuesday’s Stage 1, I was packing my bags. After the three-hour drive, I arrived to painted streets: a giant Colorado flag, “Go Levi Go” and “CB loves Andy,” as well as a street-wide marijuana leaf with “welcome” underneath it that you’d better believe made national coverage. Town was filled with orange cones with street closure warnings on them and signs in storefronts letting customers know the store would be closed during the race.

The next afternoon I was at the finish line at Mountaineer Square. The race organizers set up a big screen at every host city with a live stream of the race. The ability to watch the entire race charged the atmosphere with anticipation, especially as the riders began racing closer to the finish. When they turned through Gunnison, the crowd started cheering as recognizable landmarks flew by. The biggest cheer went up when a rider on horseback rode alongside the cyclists in a chill-inducing true Colorado moment. One of the commentators said in his British accent, “Now you know you’re really in Colorado.”

The cyclists flew through the town of Crested Butte. With each passing motorcycle carrying press, media, and officials, the excitement and emotions built. When a roar began rolling up the road from town, it almost brought me to tears—yes, over a bike race—the emotions were so high. Levi Leipheimer rode to his first career sprint win in what the commentators called a “Tour de France-like finish.” That could be the highest praise the PCC could ask for.

I came home with incredible anticipation for the Breckenridge stage finish on Saturday. The shop I work at in town was hopping with excitement the morning of the race. As the racers were charging to the top of Swan Mountain, we were ushering people out the door and running to another store in the middle of town, where we climbed up on the roof. We could see all the way to the finish. The streets were packed three to four people deep and the rooftops were lined with spectators.

Looking toward Park Avenue, we could see the riders’ heads as they raced toward the finish. It seemed like it took days for them to ride the last mile to the finish, but when they finally raced through in a dead sprint the crowd was thundering. We couldn’t tell who won, but we saw green arms thrown up in victory. Another Liquigas-Cannondale win.

During a recap, one of the commentators asked why it took 20-plus years for a road race of this magnitude to return to Colorado. Yes, why indeed? We’re already looking forward to next year. —Sydney Fox

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