By Beth Dodd:
The hype has begun for the second annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge which will burn rubber through Ute Pass on Friday, August 24. Official race merchandise is now available online and the call has gone out for volunteers. There’s an official beer – Fat Tire Amber Ale by New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, and a commemorative poster – designed by contest winner Leanna Johnson of Montrose.
Governor John Hickenlooper has declared the week of the race as the Colorado Cycling Holiday. The race is worthy of the buzz. The inaugural 2011 race attracted over 1 million fans and produced roughly $83.5 million in revenue around the state. The route for the 2012 race will challenge the riders with the highest climbs of any race in North America or Europe, including the renowned Tour de France. This year’s race will top 12,000 feet three different times. “In determining the route for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, we wanted to showcase as much of the Rocky Mountain state as possible, while creating a challenging course for the riders that would provide ideal viewing locations for spectators,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. “This year, the route will take the riders through more mountain passes than any other race of its kind, with five topping out at a minimum of 10,000 ft.” The 2012 race will pass through 12 host cities from August 20-26, 2012.
Stage 5 on Friday, August 24 will go from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs. The day’s 118 mile ride will begin with a 10 mile ascent up the hairpins of State Hwy 9 over Hoosier Pass, followed by a rapid descent into Fairplay. The sprinters will have a chance to catch the mountain climbers in a mad dash across South Park through Fairplay to Hartsel, and over Wilkerson Pass and Ute Pass on U.S. Hwy 24. Woodland Park will enjoy its moment in the spotlight during this 5th day of the race. Extra points will be awarded to the first cyclist to cross the sprint finish line at U.S. 24 and Center Street.
The riders are expected to hit their fastest speeds of the entire seven day contest as they fly through town, so organizers predict big crowds in Woodland Park. The race will then snake down the curves of Ute Pass and through the Garden of the Gods, and end with three laps around downtown Colorado Springs. While the inaugural race in 2011 created a lot of excitement, it also created a lot of traffic. City of Colorado Springs spokeswoman, Mary Scott, said streets will be closed only while the riders pass, except for downtown, where there will be longer closures. The racers are likely to reach downtown Colorado Springs late in the afternoon around 3:30 or 4:00 p.m., and could take up to 30 minutes to pass through.
Motorists should expect delays as the racers exit U.S. Hwy 24 at Manitou Avenue, pass through the Garden of the Gods onto 30th Street and head south on West Colorado into downtown. Then they will turn north on Cascade, turn around at Cache La Poudre, and head back south on Tejon Street. The finish line will be at Tejon and Colorado. Large crowds are anticipated in Colorado Springs for the finish. While downtown restaurants did well last year when the race came through on a Monday afternoon, they expect to do even better this year with the stage ending in the city on a Friday afternoon. Race fans will be able to watch the cyclists’ progress throughout the day on large screen TVs set up downtown, or they can purchase reserved box seats for $75 and VIP seats for $300 at tickethorse.com. “We really want this to be a marquee event for Colorado Springs. We want to bring tens of thousands of people downtown. We want to showcase the city in a special way and we want this to be a celebration of how cool it is to live in this community,” said Meredith Vaughan, co-chair of the race’s local organizing committee in Colorado Springs. “It’s going to be huge. The community put a lot of time, effort and money into making last year a success and I think that’s part of why we’re getting the fifth leg back here,” said Ron Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs.
A change to watch in the 2012 event is the saving of the individual time trials for the final day of the race in Denver. The ultimate outcome of the seven day race will depend on how much gas the racers have left in the tank on this last day, which will keep cycling fans guessing until the very end. “Each day of this route is a challenge. There will be nowhere to hide for these riders,” claimed Pro Cyling CEO Hunter. “Staging the individual time trial on the last day will punctuate the drama, as we expect any time lead could be taken away with the challenge and intensity of a circuit sprint. With this course, we should witness intense competition right down to the last minute.” It would be especially exciting to watch last year’s winner, Levi Leipheimer, return to try to repeat his victory. Leipheimer is currently recovering from a frightening accident in Spain on April 1, where he was hit from behind by a car while preparing for the Tour of Basque Country. His leg was broken in the accident, a fractured fibula, and he is recovering slowly. He had planned to try for a fourth overall title in the Tour of California in May, but is now hoping to be healthy enough in time to compete.