Local Hagman hoping to rise to the Challenge
ASPEN – While he admits to experiencing fits of nervous energy – those brief moments when his pulse quickens and thoughts race in his head – Alex Hagman is doing his best to project an air of calm.
Saturday afternoon, less than two days before the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge hits Colorado, the Woody Creek native was lounging in a Colorado Springs hotel room and watching “Back to the Future.” He seemed content and at ease. He was confident that “up to this point, I have done everything I can possibly do to be ready.”
“I’m really not feeling too much pressure,” the 27-year-old asserted. “It’s kind of one of those things where if you get excited too early, before you know it you’re spent before the race even starts. … I’m just trying to stay cool and keep things mellow.”
He acknowledged that would be a much more daunting task today, when the world’s top riders descend on the Springs to compete in a prologue that kicks off a week of racing widely considered to be the most demanding ever to hit U.S. soil.
“Once you’re on the line and the numbers are pinned, the adrenaline gets going,” Hagman said. “It’s game on at that point.
“But honestly, this is not as much overwhelming as it is exciting. It will be a brutal and hard race but we’ve all done that, we’ve all been through it. Everybody in this tour has ridden thousands and thousands of miles.”
This will be no ordinary race for Hagman, however. After all, it literally takes place in his own backyard. Wednesday’s “Queen Stage,” which stretches some 131 miles and features 9,746 feet of climbs – including ascents of Cottonwood and Independence passes – finishes in downtown Aspen, mere miles from where he grew up.
“It’s going to feel good to finish that day,” Hagman said. “That’s definitely the day I’ve been thinking about ever since I found out about this race. I’ve kind of been dreaming about finishing well ever since, and I’m pretty pumped.”
He’s not the only one.
Scores of family friends, fellow Aspen Cycling Club competitors and other local well-wishers eagerly are anticipating his arrival, mother Kay Hagman said Saturday.
Hagman’s father, Tim, is expected to cheer on his son on Independence Pass. Kay Hagman, meanwhile, likely will be a familiar face at the finish, steps from the Pitkin County Courthouse.
“I’ll be there trying to wiggle my way to the finish line and watch as much as I can. I’m pretty short, so I’m able to sometimes kind of say ‘Excuse me,’ and make my way to the front.
“We’re all looking forward to it. This is too fun for Aspen.”
Hagman, like his parents, is relishing the rare opportunity to race at home. This year alone, he has competed with his Jelly Belly p/b Kenda teammates in a 10-day event in Korea and the Tour of California, among others.
In June, Hagman garnered “King of the Mountain” honors at the Philadelphia International Cycling Championships, one of the longest running and most prestigious one-day races in the country.
In preparation for the Challenge, he switched to fat tires and took part in two high-altitude mountain bike races. Hagman won the Leadville 50, crossing the finish in under four hours, then finished in the top 25 in the Leadville 100.
“I felt great and was riding hard, but I just had some mechanical problems,” Hagman said of the flat tire that cost him time and momentum in the famed “Race Across the Sky.”
“Big picture, I felt good – especially in races where you’re above 10,000 feet the whole time. … It’s been perfect training, building strength on the mountain bike going up and down hills all day and getting the speed in my legs on the road bike. It keeps the mind fresh and keeps it from becoming some stale, monotonous activity every day. It keeps your head enthused, keeps you sharp.”
Hagman is hoping such preparation gives him an advantage this week – particularly in Wednesday’s ride from Gunnison to Aspen, which promises to be both physically and mentally draining.
“I think it will be as tough as advertised,” Hagman said of Stage 2. “I don’t think Cottonwood Pass will be anything crazy. I think contenders … will want to make the decision to not go so hard and try and blow out the field because it’s way too far [from the finish]. Personally, I think the run-in from Twin Lakes to the base of Independence will be difficult. On Independence where it starts to get steep is where the fireworks are going to start to go off – guys will be attacking and really trying to separate from the field.
“Mentally, you just have to stay focused and keep eating and drinking the whole time. Physically, you have to conserve, conserve, conserve as much as you can. It’s pretty straightforward, but once you get to Mile 110, sometimes you forget what to do.”
Hagman said competing in front of friends and family will provide no added stress. His mother agreed.
“I don’t know about the word pressure. I think, more than anything, it certainly adds some pride to be riding into Aspen” Kay Hagman said. “I think he’s a very happy rider and he takes everything in stride. He lives in the moment.”
That moment, one Alex Hagman has contemplated for some time, is mere days away.
“It all comes down to racing the race I know I can, pretty much letting go of the outcome and looking for opportunities and racing hard with no real pressure,” he said. “While other guys have got to get a top 10, I have no specific result that is key for me. It’s a little more relaxed in that sense, and that has always paid off better in the end.
“I see this as an opportunity to get out and ride with the best guys in the world in some of the most beautiful country in the world. … It’ll be fun, especially if you can kind of just get a hold of some of that energy people are sending out. It feels good to have people cheering for you. Who wouldn’t like that?”
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