They came Tuesday on road bikes, mountain bikes, one unicycle and a contraption with a built-in baby carrier on the front.
Scores of cyclists refused to let the threat of rain put a damper on Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge. They grunted up the short, steep pitch of McClure Pass to watch the men’s pro racers react to their first test of the day en route from Aspen to Crested Butte.
The spectators collected in two main pods. One group of at least 200 cyclists and passengers in vehicles converged on a couple of wide gravel pullouts about one-half mile from the summit. They were able to peer down to the Crystal Valley floor and watch the racers make their way up Highway 133.
Another pod of roughly 250 people collected at the summit of the pass, where the King of the Mountain points were awarded. Some spectators were perched on the rock cliff on the south side of the summit approach. Others parked party vans and buses near the summit and were sucking down Pabst Blue Ribbons in beer bongs and tequila in a shot ski.
Smokey Bear was part of a Forest Service contingent. Men dressed in panda suits promoted Boo Bicycles, of Fort Collins. The bikes are made of bamboo.
Bicycle riders from Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Aspen made the familiar climb up McClure Pass to cheer on the peloton. Scores of other riders from elsewhere in Colorado and other states got their first taste of the pass.
The turnout likely would have been greater if it hadn’t looked like the skies were going to open up Tuesday morning. It never did rain during the race.
Aspenite Mike Tierney, a master of the unicycle, wowed crowds with his ascent from the base of the pass. He said the pass was the place to be because the racers would be at their slowest speeds of the day — though still fast.
“You feel like you’re more a part of the scene when you ride up what the racers ride up,” he said.
Bike rider Duncan Gullies also captured attention as he cleared the summit. The Denver resident stayed with a friend in the Marble area and rode the pass with daughter Maribeth contently riding in a compartment built into the metal frame of his unique bike. He estimated he lugged 100 pounds of bike and child up the hill. He was hailed as a hero among other cyclists at the summit.
Zach Frisch and his friends from Denver parked their oversized orange van near the summit and were offering gulps from a beer bong to race fans passing by. The orange van was a mainstay on Independence Pass the past three years, but that pass isn’t part of a course this year.
Frisch was considerably mellower than last year, when he gained attention for running alongside the front-running racers at the Independence Pass summit while wearing a skimpy piece of clothing that exposed way too much of his hairy body.
“How do you top last year?” he asked rhetorically.
Erik Skarvan, of Aspen, said the summit of McClure had a “cool vibe” that was quieter than the summit of Independence Pass. Thousands of spectators watched the racers crest Independence Pass in the race’s first year. The numbers fell into the hundreds in the past two years after camping was banned in the fragile terrain of the upper pass. Although Tuesday’s turnout on McClure was lower than on Independence Pass, Skarvan thought it was still an impressive showing for the first year of McClure Pass on the Pro Challenge racecourse.
“You kind of don’t know what to expect the first year,” Skarvan said.
He is hoping Independence Pass is back in the mix next year, preferably with a mountaintop finish to a stage.
Glenda and Jewell Crowson made the trip from Arkansas to catch six of the seven stages of the bike race. Glenda said their son Greg got them hooked on the sport after he moved to Denver a few years ago.
“He got me started watching the Tour de France,” she said.
They planned to drive back to Aspen from McClure Pass, go over Independence Pass to Salida and then catch the Queen Stage of the 2014 race today with a finish at Monarch Ski Area.
Jacob Lapenna and his friends from Fort Collins parked their brown BooBikes.com bus at the McClure Pass summit Monday night and camped. There were six to eight other carloads of people camping at the summit, he said, but it was a pretty tame gathering the night before Stage 2. He said he and his friends had no doubt they wanted to see Tuesday’s race from the top of McClure.
“It’s badass. This is the place,” Lapenna said.