Some came in costumes. Others rode their bikes. Still others scoped out the best places in their vehicles hours before Stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge. they shared a goal — find the prime place to watch the race.
Some spectators, such as the Napack family, of Westchester, New York, used their bicycles to scramble to different sections of the course while the racers completed their three laps of about 22 miles each.
Other folks, such as Mike Trecker, of Twining Flats, donned costumes and planted themselves firmly at the same spot for the entire event.
Trecker and his friends were on W/J Hill, where the Rio Grande Trail intersects the steep pitch right before it eases up and then makes another deadly ascent.
“It’s a just a steep pitch right here,” Trecker said. “They lose their momentum here.”
His crew staked out their territory at 9 a.m. They returned at noon and started to party nearly three hours before the race start. Trecker wore a white jumpsuit, a Colorado flag cape and a frizzy white wig he said was in honor of Alex Hagman, a pro cyclist from Woody Creek who retired this year. Trecker let out regular blasts on a conch shell and occasionally rang an oversized bell he wore around his neck.
He and his friends dubbed their spot on the course Hagman’s Hill and Keegan’s Korner in honor of first-year pro Keegan Swirbul, another product of Woody Creek.
Spectators were spread out over the slopes of W/J Hill, so it was difficult to get an accurate count. One hundred or so fans, most of them arriving on bicycles, were at the lower steep stretch at the intersection with the Rio Grande Trail. More than 100 others were higher up on the slope, where King of the Mountain points were awarded to the best climbers in the race.
April and Frank Rippel, of Seguin, Texas, parked at the King of the Mountain finish line at 9 a.m. Monday. They were hanging out biding their time hours before the race. They have the patience and experience necessary to score a prime viewing spot. They have watched the Tour de France six times, they said.
“This is easy compared to the Tour de France,” April said from the perspective of a spectator.
The Rippels saved their money this year specifically to come to Colorado for the USA Pro Challenge. It’s not the same watching the race on TV.
“It’s got a whole different feel to it,” April said. In addition, lining the course makes a difference to the participants, they said.
“The riders need you to cheer them on,” April said.
After the racers climbed W/J Hill on the first lap, many spectators hopped on their bikes and headed out on the Rio Grande Trail for a different vantage point.
That’s the sweet aspect of a circuit race, said Brian Napack, of New York. He and his wife, Elise, and their kids Ella and Graham rode their bikes up Owl Creek Trail and watched the riders cross the divide before descending into Snowmass Village.
The family made their way to Power Plant Hill to catch the riders climb into Aspen toward the end of the second lap. It was a lot more entertaining to see them at the top of a tougher climb, they agreed.
The Napacks said they travel to Aspen at the same time in August most years for an end-of-summer vacation. They don’t set the time specifically because of the USA Pro Challenge but enjoy it when they can catch the race.
“We come anyhow,” Brian said. “If we can sync it up, we’ll sync it up.”
Some local residents who have watched the race during Aspen stages during the prior three years reported the number of spectators was down despite the good weather. Peter Frey, of Carbondale, said he watched the race at the summit of Independence Pass during prior years because he enjoyed the “circus atmosphere.” He figured W/J Hill would be the place to be Monday. While he was personally pleased, he was caught off guard by the turnout.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more people here,” he said while waiting for the racers to fly by.
The crowd at the finish area in Aspen also seemed thinner than prior years. At the end of the race, it was possible to get a front-row standing space just 200 meters from the finish line.
Thousands of spectators scattered throughout different vantage points were enjoying the race rather than contemplating turnout. Adam Roeder, of Aspen, was enduring the high temperatures on W/J Hill in a furry, blue Cookie Monster outfit. He had run alongside racer Christian Vande Velde, now retired, on Independence Pass in one earlier race and brought a smile to his face with the outfit, he said. Last year, pro rider Richie Porte good-naturedly threw his water bottle at him.
For the spectators lining the course, it was all about creating memories.
“This is where all the attacks are going to come,” said Chris “Whitey” White, who rode from Woody Creek to W/J Hill with his sons, Harrison, 9, and Zachary, 7.