Aspen Times Weekly cover story: Setting the stage for racing |

Aspen Times Weekly cover story: Setting the stage for racing

Paul Hilts
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
Photo courtesy Paul HiltsCover by Afton Groepper

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge will stop in Aspen for two days this year with a finish on Aug. 22 and a start on Aug. 23. The seven-day stage race begins on Aug. 20 in Durango and finishes in Denver on Aug. 26.

Aspen will host the finish to Stage 3, which begins in Gunnison and travels over the 12,126-foot-high dirt road of Cottonwood Pass before the final climb over 12,095-foot-high Independence Pass and the long, dangerous descent into downtown Aspen. This is the Queen Stage, covering 210 kilometers, or 131 miles, the longest of the tour.

On Aug. 23, riders will line up for an 11:35 a.m. departure from downtown Aspen for the 97-mile trip back over Independence Pass and then on to Tennessee Pass at 10,424 before an uphill finish at the Beaver Creek Resort. This is one of just three uphill finishes in the tour, the others being at Mount Crested Butte on Stage 2 and Flagstaff Mountain outside Boulder on Stage 6. Racegoers can actually see the start of this stage in Aspen and drive over to Beaver Creek in time to catch the finish later in the afternoon.

This year’s tour will cover 680 miles, an increase over the 509 miles covered by the peloton last year. The riders also will climb more than 45,000 vertical feet over the seven days of the tour.

This is American George Hincapie’s final pro race after recently finishing his 17th Tour de France, an all-time record for the event.

Last year, Hincapie won the Queen Stage from Gunnison to Aspen, narrowly edging out Tejay van Garderen in the final sprint down Main Street. When recently asked if he intended to go for the stage win that day and whether he would try to repeat that performance this year, Hincapie responded, “I’m always looking for opportunities, and what I remember about that day was we weren’t getting a lot of information about the chase once our group got away. It was also raining pretty hard at times, so it was a bit tricky coming into town. I was also looking at who was in our group to see what kind of sprint I would have to do – whether I would have to go from a long ways out. In the end, it worked out pretty well. As for this year, I’ll be looking for any opportunity I can get to get a win.”

When asked about his thoughts on this being his last professional bike race, Hincapie said, “I’ve always wanted to go out while I could still contribute. To be able to race for 19 years as a professional has been something I wouldn’t have dreamed of ever doing. To have this race be my last race, with the big crowds and all of the attention it gets in the U.S., seems pretty fitting.”

USA London Olympian Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) finished fifth at the 2012 Paris-to-Nice one-week stage race this spring and fifth in this year’s Tour de France. In response to questions we posed to him regarding last year’s huge stage to Aspen, and his aspirations for this year’s race through Colorado, Tejay had this to say:

“Going over Independence Pass, I put in a big attack there. Levi (Leipheimer) and Christian (Vande Velde) were the only ones following me. We were cresting over the pass, and they were the only ones with me. And that was the final podium of the race. I think that was cool how we were able to show we were the strongest, we were attacking and this was the final podium. I think it’s nice when the podium at a race (the top three riders) can assert themselves like that and show that they are the strongest in the race.”

As far as this year’s race is concerned, van Garderen said, “One of my goals going into the season was to win the (general classification) at a stage race. That’s the one thing I’m lacking – a first place. So I want to do well, and I want to try and win it. So this is my last chance, my last stage race I’m going to do this year.”

American Levi Leipheimer, riding for Omega Pharma-Quickstep, will return to defend his overall general classification title. Leipheimer’s racing results this year include an overall general classification win at the Tour of San Luis in Argentina at the beginning of the year and a third place at the Tour de Suisse in June.

Australian Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), winner of the 2011 Tour de France, will be back for a second year after finishing seventh in last year’s inaugural race. Evans finished seventh at this year’s Tour de France and had a third-place finish at the Criterium de Dauphine in June.

Andy Schleck (Radio Shack-Nissan), of Luxembourg, was the runner-up at the Tour de France in 2011.

American Chris Horner (Radio Shack-Nissan) finished second in the three-stage Tireno-Adriatico in Italy during the spring and 13th at this year’s Tour de France. He also raced on the U.S. Olympic road team in London.

Tim Duggan (Liquigas) is the reigning U.S. pro road cycling champion and a member of the U.S. Olympic road team.

3. What are the teams that appeared in this year’s Tour de France?

• BMC Racing

• Omega Pharma-QuickStep

• Radio Shack-Nissan

• Liquigas-Cannondale

• Garmin-Sharp

• Team Astana

In addition to the overall general classification title, riders are also competing for other awards throughout the week of racing. Jerseys are awarded after each day’s stage for the leader in each classification up through that point in the race. Additionally, an orange jersey is awarded each day to that stage’s most aggressive rider. Jerseys this year will include:

• Yellow; general classification race leader based on total elapsed time.

• Blue and White; Best rider younger than 23.

• Red; King of the Mountains.

• Green; points.

• Orange; most aggressive rider.

Daily television coverage of the entire tour will be available through NBC and its affiliates NBC Sports Network and Universal Sports, with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen calling the race and Durango resident Bob Roll doing color commentary.

NBC will kick off its race coverage with a preview show on Aug. 19 at 1:30 p.m.

Stages on Aug. 20 through 24 will air on NBC Sports Network from 2 to 4 p.m.

On Aug. 25 and 26 (the final two days), NBC will have live coverage from noon to 2 p.m., and NBC Sports Network will continue coverage from 2 to 4 p.m.

Additionally, NBC Sports Network will run a pre-race show every day but Aug. 26 from 1:30 to 2 p.m. featuring behind-the-scenes coverage of the teams and riders.

Universal Sports Network will replay the final two stages of the tour on Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 from 4 to 6 p.m. And finally, NBC Sports Network will air highlights of each day’s stage from 9 to 10 p.m.

According to Nancy Leslie, special events coordinator for the city of Aspen, streets in and around the race route in downtown Aspen will be closed from 6 a.m. on Aug. 22 until approximately 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 23. This includes most of Main Street and the downtown core area.

The finish route into town from Independence Pass will follow state Highway 82 to Cooper, Cooper to Galena, Galena to Hopkins, Hopkins to Original and Original to Main

with the finish in front of Paepcke Park. The finish-route map is available online at http://www.aspen


Leslie said that the race departure on Aug. 23 will include 21/2 neutralized laps through town on the following route beginning in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse on Main Street before heading out over Independence Pass on Highway 82: Main to Aspen, Aspen to Hyman, Hyman to Mill, Mill to Hopkins, Hopkins to Galena, Galena to Cooper, Cooper to Original and Original to Main. The start-route map is also available at http://www.aspen


Parking at the Rio Grande Parking Garage will be limited to those holding VIP passes and race workers. Daily parking restrictions will be in effect on all other open streets throughout the two days.

Because the closed racecourse presents obstacles for people trying to get from one location to another, designated crossing areas to facilitate pedestrian movement are being provided. Here is a complete list of course-crossing locations, in order, along the finish route through town:

• Cooper at Spring

• Main at Galena

• Galena at Hyman

• Main at Mill

• Hopkins at Spring

• Main at Monarch

• Spring at Main

• Main at Aspen

Independence Pass will be closed to traffic from 10:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Aug. 22 and from 9 a.m. until approximately 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 23, when the race leaves Aspen for Beaver Creek.

Katie Martinez, of the U.S. Forest Service office in Aspen, offered the following information on camping in the Independence Pass area during the two days of racing:

The campgrounds on the pass will all be open. The sites at Difficult Campground are reserveable at but have already filled up. The Difficult day-use area will be open for walk-in tent camping to accommodate more campers, and that will be on a first-come, first-served basis beginning on Aug. 21 for two nights only, returning to the business-as-usual day-use area after the race on Aug. 23. Weller Campground (11 sites with a maximum stay of five days), Lost Man Campground (10 sites with a maximum stay of 14 days) and Lincoln Gulch Campground (seven sites with a maximum stay of 14 days) are all first-come, first-served sites.

Another option is roadside camping between the winter gate (approxmately mile marker 47 and mile marker 56). This is an exception from the general rule of no camping within a quarter mile of Highway 82 on Independence Pass and will be in effect for Aug. 21 and 22 only.

No overnight camping will be allowed between mile markers 56 and 66, on the Pitkin County side. This is from just above Lost Man Campground to the summit of Independence Pass. There will be a highway sign at mile marker 56 indicating that beyond that point there is day parking only (dawn to dusk). There will also be a similar sign on the Lake County side at mile marker 66. Folks who choose to park within this zone will have to move their cars at dusk for the night. This will be enforced by Forest Service law enforcement and agency staff.

A pro women’s criterium race will be held on a closed in-town circuit prior to the men’s race entering town. The women’s race will run from 1 to 2 p.m.

There are two general places to best watch a bike race – on a steep mountain climb and a spot on the flats where there aren’t a lot of other spectators – but the course offers a few turns to slow the race down. Even on long, flat straightaways it’s difficult to get a good look at someone traveling past on a bike at 35 miles per hour.

If you want to have a great view of the race and be close to the riders at lower speeds, and you can deal with the traffic and other obstacles, the east side of Independence Pass on Aug. 22 and the Aspen side of the pass on Aug. 23 as the riders leave town are the places to be. Keep in mind the restrictions on camping and parking (see above). Your options for securing a good spot are better if you ride your bike up the pass, but that presents its own challenges. Someone who rode up last year said that the descent to town, after the race had passed by, was hair-raising at best. Bikes were competing with cars all the way down. He said that you could not ride conservatively due to the large number of bikes flying down the road at any given moment. Add to that the fact that it was raining and cold up there on race day, and the message was, “You had better be prepared,” as they say in the Boy Scouts. Be forewarned!

And while there will be a large number of spectators in town for the finish, they tend to congregate like lemmings. As an example, the corner at Cooper and Galena had spectators five and 10 deep in spots last year. Two blocks farther along the course at Hopkins and Galena (the corner by City Hall), there were almost no spectators. The racers had to slow down to make the corner, and there was no one there to block your view. Look for places just after corners and away from

the crowds.

This year the awards stage will be placed at the corner of Main and Aspen, next to the finish area at Paepcke Park, to better accommodate spectators (and, it must be said, to ensure that Aspen Mountain will be in the background of all photographs taken there). Last year there were lots of complaints from racegoers that they could not get close enough to see the awards ceremony. Leslie said, “We’ve listened to the community and tried to make improvements wherever we could, and this is one of the places we hope will be a big improvement.”

Team buses will be parked on Hunter and Spring streets and Hyman Avenue. This, too, is a great place to get close to the racers after Aug. 22’s stage and in the morning before Aug. 23’s start.

John Hocker, director of operations for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, reports that RFTA will be adding 12 extra buses on both race days to shuttle spectators for free between the Brush Creek/Highway 82 parking lot and town. Buses will run continuously between the parking lot and downtown Aspen on both days beginning at 8 a.m. Half-hourly service between Snowmass Village and Aspen is also free.

This service is in addition to RFTA’s regularly scheduled half-hour services between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

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