Aspen race stage lived up to the advance billing |

Aspen race stage lived up to the advance billing

Patrick Ghidossi / The Aspen TimesGeorge Hincapie of BMC Racing celebrates winning the Queen Stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge as he crosses the finish line in downtown Aspen on Wednesday afternoon. Tejay Van Garderen finished in second place for the stage and took the overall lead in the race.

ASPEN – The Queen Stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge lived up to lofty expectations Wednesday and solidified the chances that Aspen will remain part of the fledgling race’s future, according to organizers.

Even before the thrilling end of Wednesday’s stage – a sprint to the finish line – race co-owner Richard F. Schaden was singing the praises of Aspen.

“I think Aspen will always be one of the [host] cities,” said Schaden, who is co-owner of the race with his son, Rick.

Then came the hard-fought scramble over Independence Pass and tricky descent into Aspen, where veteran George Hincapie beat U.S. countryman and emerging star Tejay Van Garderen to the line. An estimated 3,000 spectators watched the race unfold from near the summit of Independence Pass, creating a scene similar to what occurs at the top of mountain passes in Europe during the Tour de France. Thousands of additional race fans lined the streets of Aspen.

In response to a request Thursday to assess the Queen Stage, race Chief Operating Officer Brian Farris said he couldn’t be happier. Instead of offering his view as someone with an interest to hype the race, he passed along the sentiments numerous people conveyed to him.

“Everyone’s describing it to me as epic,” he said. “It definitely was an epic day for American cycling.”

Like Schaden, Farris said it would be difficult to imagine the USAPCC not including Aspen as a host city in future years. However, he hedged just a bit and said the race route must be evaluated each year.

“There’s no guarantee to where we’re going to be,” he said. But demonstrated support counts for a lot, he said, and Aspen showed it wanted to host a stage.

Aspen has another advantage. Schaden is a pilot, and he’s been flying himself and guests around to the various start and finish points of the stages of the USAPCC. It is extremely convenient having Aspen’s airport so close to town, he said.

Schaden, 73, is an avid cyclist but has never funded bicycle racing events before. His son got him interested in bankrolling the new Colorado race, taking a concept Lance Armstrong and former Gov. Bill Ritter formed and turning it into reality.

The Schadens invested $10 million in the race. As business owners entrenched in Colorado, they will keep it in the state. The Schadens are majority shareholders of Quiznos and owners of Smashburger, along with other business interests.

Schaden said he invested in the race as a long-term venture. Farris said they envision it making the leap from a break-even event to one that is profitable after three years.

The organizers said they are confident the event will succeed because Colorado is the birthplace of American stage racing and the state has proved that it can support professional racing. It is likely that the crowds will grow at each stage of the race this year as it moves closer to the Front Range. The final stage is Sunday in Golden and Denver.

Schaden said it was also impressive that the top pro cycling teams decided to participate and send most of their top riders to Colorado rather than to the Tour of Spain, which is being held at the same time. When Rick informed him that the three podium finishers from the Tour de France, cycling’s grand tour, were participating in the Pro Challenge, Schaden felt better about his investment.

“I thought, this is going to seal it,” he said.

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