Cycling fans in Aspen will double their pleasure again during the 2014 USA Pro Challenge.
The best male road cyclists in the world will return for two stages — a circuit race around Aspen and Snowmass Village that will test their lungs right out of the gate and then a Stage 2 start out of Aspen onto a route to be determined to Mount Crested Butte.
This year’s race also will feature the first-ever mountaintop finish in the Pro Challenge as well as a final stage that race fans will be able to help shape. The mountaintop finish will be at Monarch Mountain, one of the oldest ski areas in the state. Its base elevation is at 10,790 feet.
USA Pro Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter held a news conference at the St. Regis Aspen Resort hotel Monday to announce the host towns and cities for 2014. Representatives from each of the hosts were on hand to whoop it up and toast with mimosas.
“Colorado is a beautiful state to have a bike race, and Pitkin County is a beautiful place to host a start,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Rob Ittner. “We love the iconic Independence Pass part of this race, and hopefully it will go long into the future for that to be part of it.”
Just like in 2013, the 2014 event will start with a circuit race in Aspen and Snowmass Village. The circuit race will be held Aug. 18. The route is yet to be announced.
Spectators lined the circuit racecourse last year when it traveled from Aspen to Snowmass Village via Owl Creek Road. From there, it traveled down Brush Creek Road before snaking into the hills above the valley and then descending into Woody Creek and back to Aspen via McLain Flats Road. Many fans took advantage of the trail system to scramble to different vantage points during the course of the stage. Even fans who remained stationary got to see the racers whiz by on three laps.
“A circuit race is spectator-friendly,” said Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron.
Riders will start Stage 2 in Aspen on Aug. 19 and could head over Independence Pass and Cottonwood Pass or McClure Pass and Kebler Pass to get to the ultimate finish in Mount Crested Butte. (See related story on this page.) Stage 2 also started in Aspen in 2013 and included a climb over Independence Pass before racers headed to Breckenridge on a grueling 126-mile route.
Hunter said the Aspen area’s strong performance in 2013 earned a return engagement. Aspen was rewarded with an arrangement that will keep fans in the upper valley for at least two days.
“We could not pick a better host, and that’s why we’re back,” Hunter said. “We pretty much decided on Day 2 (last summer) that we were coming back (next) year.”
The return to Aspen couldn’t be disclosed earlier because of negotiations, Hunter added. Skadron said race officials asked city officials if Aspen would like to host a circuit race and the start of another stage again this year. After the invite, Aspen prepared a bid and went through the formal evaluation process. Aspen has been a host city for each of the prior three years of the race.
Hunter said specific routes “probably” would be released within 90 days. Race organizers will work closely with technical advisers from each host town and city, he said. The goal is to minimize impact while making it challenging for the riders.
Skadron, Ittner and Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Boineau all stressed they will work together to determine the best circuit course. It’s “incumbent” on the organizing committee to find improvements, Skadron said. Ittner concurred.
“Just because we provided customer service yesterday doesn’t mean we don’t need to provide customer service tomorrow,” he said.
Whatever route is selected, Boineau said one useful improvement to help spectators would be putting markers along the course. That would help visitors and other people unfamiliar with the route pick their vantage points.
Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte will host a lung-searing finish once again after sitting out 2013. Town representative Karl Trujillo said residents are thrilled to have the race back.
“It’s a big party when it comes to town,” he said.
Trujillo said the event has brought exposure to Crested Butte. People who saw the race on television have later visited, he said.
After the Stage 2 finish in Mount Crested Butte, the race will start a historic Stage 3 in Gunnison. That day will feature the 4-year-old race’s first mountaintop finish at Monarch Mountain, west of Salida.
“We are excited — after hearing a lot of feedback from a lot of the riders and in particular one rider, Tom Danielson, about 702 times to have a mountaintop finish,” Hunter said.
Stage 4 will feature a circuit race in Colorado Springs.
Stage 5 will start in Woodland Park in the shadow of Pikes Peak and end in Breckenridge.
Stage 6 will be the individual time trial in Vail that’s earned a reputation as the toughest stage.
The 2014 race will end with an exciting twist. Fans will be able to offer advice by voting for their favorites among four options for the final stage. The options are a Denver circuit race similar to the final stage in 2013, a start in Golden with a finish in Denver, a start in Boulder with a finish in Denver and a start in Boulder with a finish in Golden that would incorporate Lookout Mountain. Voting has started at www.prochallenge.com/PickStage7.
Cycling fan John Olson, of Aspen, attended the news conference to hear the announcement about the host towns and cities, and he was pleased to hear that Aspen will host the first two stages again. It’s incredible to be able to watch racers the caliber of Tejay van Garderen, a part-time Aspenite who won last year’s race, and Peter Sagan, who dominated in several sprint finishes last year, including the Aspen circuit race, Olson said.
The organizers said the USA Pro Challenge, known as America’s Race, is the largest spectator event in the history of Colorado with more than 1 million people watching at least part of the race.
“This puts us on a global stage,” Olson said.
He said he would be thrilled to see the Aspen circuit race incorporate a dash up to the scenic Maroon Bells. Cycling fans will learn if that wish comes true in about 90 days.