Challenge omission doesn’t faze Hagman | AspenTimes.com

Challenge omission doesn’t faze Hagman

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Alex Hagman called last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge a “dream come true,” an experience that was as memorable as it was motivating.

The Woody Creek native was eager to return this August to once again ascend Colorado mountain passes and, hopefully, the leaderboard. While they may be watching when the Challenge rolls through Aspen on Aug. 22 and 23, Hagman and his Jelly Belly p/b Kenda teammates will not be pedaling across the finish line. The squad was not among the 16 selected to participate in the second installment of arguably America’s most demanding stage race.

Hagman discovered the news last week while scanning an article on CyclingNews.com.

“People who know me will say I’m very optimistic about things. I believe that when one door closes, another will open. You just have to be patient and wait for it to reveal itself,” Hagman said Tuesday, days after returning from China, where he competed in the 13-stage Tour of Qinghai Lake. “It’s definitely a bummer, but it’s totally out of my control to some degree. … I wish the sport invited more people, but that’s not for me to complain about.”

This year’s Challenge will feature six new teams – Astana, Champion System, RusVelo, Bontrager Livestrong, Optum and Levi Leipheimer’s new Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad – and four of last year’s top five finishers.

While Hagman stood out in last year’s race, finishing 31st – two spots ahead of 2010 Tour de France winner Andy Schleck, of Luxembourg, and just 6 minutes, 16 seconds behind winner Leipheimer – just one other teammate finished in the top 90.

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In an interview with The Aspen Times in April, soon after Challenge organizers unveiled details on a revamped course, Hagman was cautiously optimistic about his squad’s 2012 chances, saying, “We’re hoping to get back into it and show the world what we can do.”

He was excited about his individual prospects, too.

“Having raced there last year, I learned a lot that I could bring to the table that I thought would help me get a better result. I’ve been riding much more consistently this year in tours,” Hagman said Tuesday. “It would’ve been fun.”

While the news was unfavorable, Hagman says it did little to dampen the spirit of the Jelly Belly contingent competing in China.

“It was very similar to when we didn’t get into (May’s) Tour of California,” he said. “There really wasn’t time to sulk or be bummed out. … We had three or four days left, and we wanted to finish strong.”

They did just that, helping guide Ricardo van der Velde to a 12th-place finish in a competitive field.

Hagman’s hopes of a high general-classification finish effectively were quashed early because of a bout with food poisoning.

“I couldn’t keep anything down all night or at breakfast, so it was a tough day on the bike. We had a 4,000-foot climb onto the (Tibetan) Plateau, which is at 10,000 feet,” he recalled. “You drain your body in a stage race, and it’s hard enough to stay on top of it, but overall my first trip to China was a really good experience.”

Now, Hagman is setting his sights on new opportunities – and swapping out the road bike for some fat tires. He’s planning to compete in the Leadville 100 and perhaps in the local Power of Four Mountain Bike Race, which takes place the same day as Stage 6 of the Challenge.

Hagman said he is content to “move on, keep charging and keep trying to win races.” And he’ll always have fond memories from last year’s Challenge to appreciate.

Moments like having his name written in the road in Aspen and in the snow on Independence Pass. Moments like spotting his mother, Kay, at the finish of the Queen Stage in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse.

“It has to be one of the best tours I’ve ever done,” Hagman said. “My parents have seen me progress through this sport and, quite frankly, have been my No. 1 sponsors for several years. I think they’re bummed out about not getting to see me in one of the biggest races in the country, but it’s just the way it is.

“I was out riding my bike today thinking about the fact that I won’t be doing the race. I was thinking about how rare it is to be a part of such a big event that came through my hometown. There are guys that do the Tour de France that live in France that never have an experience like that. I’m really glad I appreciated it last year.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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