28 July 2011

Can fans ride a stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge?

Are you coming to Colorado with your bike?

For updated information for the 2013 race - please transfer to: USA PRO CHALLENGE  2013
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is happening in Colorado, August 22-28, 2011. Time to finalize your plans to attend. Chances are you are thinking about bringing your bike (and fishing pole, and hiking shoes, kayak, canoe, tent, and all your other weekend warrior toys). What are your options for riding while seeing the Pro Tour in Colorado? 
There is no official L'Etape citizens race in conjunction with the USA Pro Cycling planned yet. Who knows if they will have one in years to come, but I hope they will. The Amgen Tour of California finally had their first ever L'Etape du California this past May after 7 years of the race.
That means as cyclists, you will most likely need to make cycling the route and watching the race happen for yourself, although you do have two organized options (that I have found).
* Scout the Stage Citizens Ride The event is intended to raise funds for Vail Valley Medical Center, local cycling amateurs may ride the first section of Stage 4 USA Pro Cycling Challenge from Avon to Wolcott / Four Eagle Ranch, in advance of the pros on the morning of Friday, August 26, 2011. Experience what the pro riders feel like at a stage start depart. Cost is $100, ride length is 15 miles, age is 12-years and above, start time 11:15am, includes: BBQ lunch, gift bag, ride jersey. Register at Active.com

* Amateur Time Trial Date: August 22nd, 2011 Location: Colorado Springs. Prior to the Pros riding the same course. I am trying to find more information bout this event for amateur cyclists. Be one of the few to participate in a once in a lifetime experience and race head-to-head with the world's top professionals! Just before the professional peloton starts the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a select number of amateur athletes will race over the official 5.18-mile prologue time trial course in Colorado Springs. Experience the same precise timing as the pros, the cheers of the crowds lining the course, and professional officiating by UCI officials for a chance to compare times against the professionals. Proceeds go to the Pikes Peak Cycling Society to help support the costs associated with attracting and hosting the Prologue of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Space is very limited and tickets are $750. Less than 15 spots are left.

* Ride of Champions presented by SRM - Colorado Springs, August 19th, $495 Pikes Peak Cycling

* Kids: USA Pro Cycling Challenge - Gunnison Stage Start - Kids on bikes get to race off the official start line at 10:15 a.m. Date: August 24th, 2011, Location: Gunnison

Please also see What's happening around town - for a list of additional local races and special events in each host city in conjunction with the USAPro race.

Riding the Routes: If you want to ride a complete stage or other parts of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race routes, you will need to make it happen for yourself. In studying the route I would make these suggestions:  
1. come early and ride the weekend before the race begins, or stay and ride after the race.
2. find a person willing to drive sag support, so you may ride sections of the stage routes while moving cities.
3. ride out to the route in the morning, cheer like mad, ride back, backtracking after the race has passed through, to your same hotel, tent or car. Or move locations in the early morning (before the road closes) or in the evening (after riding).
4. see a stage, ride a day, see a stage, ride a day, etc.,  skipping around the actual stage routes.

Cyclists options - stage by stage: 
Prologue: cycle between the start in Garden of the Gods and the finish in down town (but not on the race route).  
Stage 1: ride from Salida up Monarch Pass. You can complete this entire stage route to Crested Butte by bicycle with sag support. Or ride from Gunnison to Monarch Pass. Or ride from the town of Crested Butte up to Mount Crested Butte (3 miles uphill) the only mountain top finish in the Tour! 
Stage 2: ride up Cottonwood Pass, or ride up Independence Pass. Entire route discouraged, but possible for both very fast and experienced cyclists only. 
Stage 3: ride up Vail Pass 
Stage 4: you can complete this entire stage route by bicycle, with sag support. Or ride from Vail to Avon and back.  
Stage 5: ride up Rabbit Ears Pass, or ride up Swan Mountain Rd near Frisco, or into the town of Breckenridge.
Stage 6: ride up Lookout mountain, or ride your cruiser bike to any other area along the route or into downtown Denver.
*Please note that race route roads will have rolling closures. Sag support vehicles may not be able to accompany their cyclists at every point on the stage. Mountain passes will experience full road closures hours before (Independence Pass) or even the night before (Cottonwood Pass) the race. 

Think it through before you ride

Please read about road closures (and the comments) at this blog post: Camping and road closures for USA Pro Challenge

Being able to see a start and finish in the same day will be restricted to the Prologue which is only 5.18 miles long (bring a bike to get around), or the 10-mile time trial in Vail - (definitely bring a bike). After Stage 1 departs Salida, you can drive into Crested Butte via Cottonwood Pass (road closes at 3:00pm), the event organizers say you will be able to make the finish in Crested Butte. You can depart after the start in Golden immediately (depending on where you park your car!) and get to the finish in Denver, but you probably won't make it to the finish if you wait for all three entry/exits of the riders around Golden. 
In Colorado we have long mountain roads in between the start and finish towns, with no side road options (where bear, elk and mountain lions live). Thwarting your effort to get from the start to the finish in the same day during race times, will not only be mountain passes, rivers and wild beasts, but policeman, road closures, and bike racers who are a lot faster on a bike than you are - like George Hincapie (and maybe the wildest beast of them all - Jens Voigt). Even if they open the roads after the race passes through, you will not beat George to the finish line in time to see him and his peloton cross the line.
You will be more concerned with getting there by dark. When riding in Colorado, safely estimate 14-16mph, as your average ride time to allow for stops, regrouping, picture taking, weather, finding water (no domestiques) and food (no feed zones for you). Add in our famous altitude as an explanation for slower climbing speeds, and you realize why it is geographically and physiologically improbable to do it all.  

Weather in Colorado: Mountains - Cool nights (40-50s) colder on the high passes, crisp mornings, bright clear sunburn hot mid-day temperatures (70-80s), afternoon rain showers, great evenings. Denver (80s-90s) hot.

Stage 1: Salida to Crested Butte. Perhaps depart early from Salida and watch the race on Monarch Pass, then descend into Gunnison for food and water and then ride the remainder of the long hot ride into Crested Butte for a well deserved shower and dinner. Westbound US 50 closed at US 285 at 9:45-12:45. Rolling closures along US Hwy 50, east and west bound, 30 minute delays from 11:45am - 4:00 pm

Stage 2: Gunnison to Aspen. For those claiming they will ride the entire 131.1 route of Stage 2 on race day, 100 miles in Colorado is a big deal, the Triple Bypass is 120-miles of a really big deal. Anyone who has ridden Ride the Rockies or Bicycle Tour of Colorado will tell you, you could be biting off more than you can chew for a race day ride (I am telling you that, and I've done the Lourdes - Tourmalet - Luz Ardiden loop on a day of the Tour de France). This route is perfect for a 2-day ride. Riding hard, stopping for a couple hours and riding hard again - is well, hard. 

It is not just road closures that will stop you in your tracks, it is simply that it takes a long time to ride these roads on a bike. According to CDOT:

Cottonwood Pass closed: August 23 at 3:00 pm until August 24 at 1:00 pm.
Independence Pass eastbound closed: August 24 11:00-4:00pm.
Independence Pass westbound closed: August 24 11:00-2:00pm.
According to USA Pro Cycling Fan Advisory the passes will be closed at noon. Cyclists will be able to continue to ride on the roads, but will should get off the road (and will be told to get over) as the race approaches.

If you departed Gunnison at 6:00am on bike, you could  reach Twin Lakes (91 miles) between 11:30-1:00, just at or past road closure cutoff time to climb Independence Pass, you might be able to climb it, you might not. They will allow bicycles to ride on the road after it is closed to vehicles, but you will need to stop and get over as the race comes through. If you rode Gunnison to Buena Vista over Cottonwood Pass, you might arrive to a waiting car by 10:30. It is a 1/2 hour drive from Buena Vista to Twin Lakes, where again you will just make or miss the cut off time for Independence Pass by car. Sorry to be a party spoiler. But if you must ride the entire stage, I would suggest heading out very early in the morning, and trying to get as far as you can along the road before they close it for the race. Then ride the remainder after the race passes through. 

Booking it in Colorado will achieve 18-19 mph for an amateur (the fully supported pros average 24-26mph), standard cyclists will be 13-14 mph. You have the dirt climb of Cottonwood Pass (slower speeds), and then Independence Pass, which comes at 110 miles into the route of Stage 2. Allow 6 hours at booking it and 9 hrs at standard speed to get to this point, plus more time to gather water and food. Allowing for race and road closures you are looking at a 9-12 hour day and some stretches with no source for water. The sun will rise at 6:19am, and set at 7:41pm.
Cottonwood Pass will be closed to vehicles at 3:00pm the day before the stage to allow for work on the gravel road. Cars can return to the other side of the Collegiate Peaks by going back over Monarch Pass and around. Or wait until the road opens up considering the traffic coming off the mountain pass. Hopefully some entrepreneur will be selling water at the top, otherwise no sag support and no gas station up top. Any cyclists trying to climb up Independence Pass after the race should be aware of the car, foot, and bicycle traffic descending back down the road toward them.

Mileage between towns on Stage 2:
Gunnison to Cottonwood Pass: 36.0 miles
Cottonwood Pass to Buena Vista: 32.2 miles
Buena Vista to Independence Pass: 42.8 miles
Independence Pass to Aspen: 19.8 miles

* Cell phone coverage in the mountains of Colorado can be spotty, it may be difficult to contact all members of your group throughout the day. Also fueling yourself at altitude for a 131 mile climb should not be taken lightly by flatlanders, unless you have acclimated and trained well for this type of riding. I would advise having checkpoints and a plan B for your sag support. And maybe make that sag wagon a sag truck.

The race organizers think it will take the (fully supported) Pros upwards of 5.5-6 hrs (23-24 mph) to ride Stage 2 (Ted King rode part of the route last week in 5 hours). The fact that the race begins at 9:45am, and the organizers estimate the finish time into Aspen to be between 3:00 and 4:15pm, means they have no idea how long this route will take the pros to race. I've never before seen an hour and fifteen minute window of estimated arrival before. 


The good news is that they will be allowing roadside camping just as they do in Europe. The state highway police will have a 10 car and 10 motorcycle team traveling with each stage of the tour for the length of the Tour. It is believed they will be allowing camping along the roads as long as the cars and campers are safely off the road. 

The active hard working people at Bicycle Colorado have provided good news about camping for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. They bring the fans good news that roadside "European Tour Camping" will be allowed for this event. Please read more on the Bicycle Colorado website at: Camping for USA Pro Cycling Challenge Fans on race route, European-style Race Spectating comes to Colorado. 

I am encouraging you to pick your point and be happy with it. The point is to have fun at the event! There will be no scouts out there waiting to sign you up for your dream pro team. You still have plenty of choices this year, and more reason to come back again next year to try a different combination of rides. Chances are you will land in Crested Butte, Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs or Breckenridge and enjoy it so much you will not want to race out of town anyway. For this year begin your planning by deciding if you want to be in a start city or finish city, which days, and where you want to see the race.

Stage 4: between Avon and Steamboat Springs has very little services or population in the miles between these two towns. If you plan to ride the stage you will definitely need sag support for water. It is best to leave early in the morning to begin your 82.8 mile ride to Steamboat Springs. After about 5 hours on your bike you could arrive into Steamboat in time to see the finish.  

Stage 5: between Steamboat and Breckenridge. Most Colorado cyclists take 6-8hrs to ride a century. So whether you ride early or late you will be able to see the start or the finish. You have better, but still limited, chances for water supply along this road. Eastbound Rabbit Ears Pass closed at US 40 in Steamboat Springs. Motorists can use the alternative route on State Highway 9 to State Highway 134 or State Highway 141 via I-70, 10:30am -1:30pm

* VIP travel packages Travel Packages offered by VeloSport Vacations including three different 4-day, 3-night tour packages (Midweek Mountains, Final Weekend, Vail Time Trial). Packages range in price from $1995 - $2695 per person, with the Midweek Mountains package including a helicopter ride over Maroon Bells! These are VIP travel and viewing packages, including airport transfers, hotel, VIP access, buffets, gifts, TV in VIP suites at the start and finish areas, access to press conferences at the race and more. They are not cycling or riding tours.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge race dates
August 22-August 28, 2011
PROLOGUE : Monday, August 22 - Start and Finish in Colorado Springs, CO (Prologue) 5.18 miles
STAGE 1 : Tuesday, August 23 - Start in Salida, CO. Finish in Crested Butte, CO. 
99.4 miles
Wednesday, August 24 - Start in Gunnison. Finish in Aspen, CO. 131.1 miles
Thursday, August 25 - Start and Finish in Vail, CO. (Individual Time Trial) 10 miles
Friday, August 26 - Start in Avon, CO. Finish in Steamboat Spring, CO. 82.8 miles
Saturday, August 27 - Start in Steamboat Spring, CO. Finish in Breckenridge, CO. 105.2 miles
Sunday, August 28 - Start in Golden, CO. Finish in Denver, CO. 73.79 miles

Either chase the tour everyday, or stay for 2 days in the same town watching a finish, start and taking in a bike ride. See more itinerary examples and suggested bike rides in the area near each stage of the tor on the PedalDancer.com race fan information page. Happy riding! 

Also see all the events planned for the fans by each community (Gunnison and Crested Butte get a gold star!) What's happening around town?