Happy to be home?
Alex Hagman is more than happy to be back home in Aspen.
After all, how often do you get to showcase your high-speed professional sport in your hometown with a collection of the best cyclists in the world?
Welcome home, Alex Hagman.
“There’s a lot of excitement for our team,” said Hagman, a pro rider with the Jelly Belly cycling team. “The USA Pro Challenge is a huge exposure event ... not only for the team, but it’s a personal thing for me, too.”
Hagman, 29, is an Aspen High School graduate who signed on as a professional bike racer after a successful career as a collegiate cyclist at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
“I know a lot of people in Aspen, and they’ll be out there, and I know of people in Fort Collins, and they’ll be out there,” said Hagman, who now lives in Fort Collins. Stage 6 of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge will finish in Fort Collins.
The former collegiate national mountain bike champion rode with Jelly Belly in the inaugural USA Pro Challenge in 2011.
The team was not selected to the 2012 field, which makes the 2013 inclusion even more important for Jelly Belly’s squad, Hagman said. Additional television coverage nationally and internationally is a major exposure opportunity for Jelly Belly, one of five UCI Continental Teams selected for the 16-team field that includes seven UCI Pro Teams (the highest level teams) and four UCI Professional Continental Teams.
With the lights on, Jelly Belly will try to add animation to the Colorado stage race while trying to position leader Freddy Rodriguez for podium finishes.
“We’re going to be going for the break-aways every day,” Hagman said of the seven-stage race that opens Monday with the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race.
Six hundred miles later, the race will finish with the Denver Circuit Race on Aug. 25.
“We’ll look at opportunities,” Hagman said. “Try to get a jersey, get a stage.”
And they’ll be taking a close look at the opportunities in Stage 1, the three-lap Aspen/Snowmass Circuit on a 20-mile course.
“It’s epic hard and fast,” Hagman said of the Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race that includes a quick, punchy climb up Owl Creek Road as the cyclists leave downtown Aspen and head toward Snowmass Village.
“The first stage will determine the yellow jersey for the next day or two,” Hagman said. “I think it’s a good course for Freddy.”
He said break-aways will try to make their moves on the course because there are no long stretches where a chase group can organize and reel in a break.
Hagman said the entire squad is excited about riding in support of Gonzales, a multiple national champion and respected veteran in the cycling world.
“I worked for Freddy at the U.S. Pro Championships in Tennessee,” Hagman said. The Jelly Belly riders helped position Gonzales to win the road racing national title.
“I told him I’m going to do everything in my power to help you (get to the podium),” said Hagman, who watched Gonzales step to the top step of the podium in Tennessee.
“He’s raced all over the world. He’s won in the Giro d’Italia. He knows bike racing really well,” said the Aspen native.
The rest of his squad is riding well and working well together, he said.
“And Serghei Tvetcov ... he’s a good rider. Wait until you see him,” Hagman said of his young teammate from Moldova. Tvetcov won a couple of stages in the Cascade Classic this year.
Luis Lemus (Mexico), Canadian Nic Hamilton and Americans Morgan Schmitt, Sean Maxich and Ian Burnett complete the Jelly Belly team that will ride in Aspen next week.
“I love riding with Ian (Burnett). It makes a good cycling team with guys like Ian,” Hagman said of his fellow Fort Lewis College cycling alum.
Burnett provides sprinting power and lead-out power for Jelly Belly.
He’s also an all-around rider after learning to climb in the San Juan Mountains around Durango.
Hagman and his Jelly Belly teammates are coming of last week’s Tour of Utah, a six-stage, 500-mile race.
Hagman said after serious recovery early in the week, the team will take some training rides in advance of Monday’s circuit start at 1:05 p.m.
The Utah race featured several big climbing days and an eventual victory by Tommy Danielson, of Boulder, another cyclist out of the Fort Lewis College program.
“First of all, we were fortunate in Utah. The stages could have been brutally hot,” Hagman said. “Luckily, it wasn’t that hot ... in Bryce and Capitol Reef.
Stages 5 and 6 in Utah, he said, included some brutal climbs like Empire Pass.
“For locals here, it was like going up Snowmelt (Road in Snowmass),” he said of the super-steep climb. Except the pavement was more like upper Castle Creek Road, circa 1990.
“Empire Pass was similar to that for long, long stretches,” Hagman said, adding that the steep climbs of the Tour of Utah were more like mountain bike racing because the cyclists rode individually as opposed to in groups.
Hagman finished 38th individually in the 100-rider field in Utah. His teammates were in the same vicinity on the final finish order.
“There’s more highway-grade climbing in the USA Pro Challenge,” Hagman said, citing the start of Stage 2 from Aspen up Independence Pass.
Stage 2 will start at 10:10 a.m. Tuesday in downtown Aspen. After going over Independence Pass the cyclists will turn toward Buena Vista before heading up through South Park, over Trout Pass and then over Hoosier Pass to the finish in downtown Breckenridge.
“I suspect it (attacks) will start early Tuesday,” Hagman said. “Independence Pass is not an easy start. Above 9,000 feet, it’s tough. It seems like between 9,000 and 10,000 feet is where you feel it.”
Hagman said the USA Pro Challenge should be a spectacle for spectators, especially with the inclusion of the top teams like Sky Procycling (including Tour de France winner Chris Froome), BMC, RadioShack Leopard Trek, Cannondale and Garmin-Sharp.
“The biggest thing with the big teams is that the teams race more intelligently,” said Hagman, who finished 40th in the inaugural USA Pro Challenge in 2011. “The racing is more calculated.”
For the latest scheduling updates on the USA Pro Challenge, visit wwwaspenupcc.com