Even the most casual cycling fan knows if planning to attend a race mainly for the party, the finish line is the place to be.
A race can end in a flash, but the crowds that congregate near the finish tend to be the loudest, the rowdiest and the most colorful. They also have a reputation for sticking around, filling local bars and restaurants with an atmosphere unique to cycling.
This year the town of Breckenridge bid for the first time to host a stage finish and a stage start for the USA Pro Challenge. Although keeping cycling fans in town for an extra day paid dividends for local businesses (see related story on Page 3), the fans said they were pleasantly surprised by Breckenridge’s vision for Wednesday’s Stage 3 start.
Denver resident Steven Stewart won VIP passes in the Pro Challenge’s Facebook contest. An avid cycling fan, Stewart typically travels to three Pro Challenge stages every year, using the race as an excuse to visit cities he’s never seen in Colorado.
His past travels have taken him to Steamboat Springs and Telluride, but this was his first visit to Breckenridge.
“Everyone wants to see a finish, but they’re lightning fast,” Stewart said. “I saw a start in Steamboat Springs (in the past), but this was much more fun.”
What made Breckenridge different from other starts were the “fan loops,” Stewart said. Unlike a typical start to a cycling stage, where the riders saddle up and speed off for the finish, riders circled through the start line several times before the stage officially began.
“It was different from anything I have ever seen in the past,” Stewart said. “You got to see the riders a lot more and it kept the crowd excited.”
The pre-stage atmosphere also was uniquely Breckenridge, said George Romonoyske and Gerald Schmidt. The two men have been traveling to Colorado from Long Island since 1999 for cycling events, including the Pro Challenge and Ride the Rockies.
It’s not uncommon for fans to catch only a glimpse of the riders during the pre-stage check-in or when the race begins, but not in Breckenridge, Schmidt said.
“Everything is a lot more accessible than at stages we’ve been to in the past,” he said. “I went over to check out the tour vans and the bikes and the riders were making themselves available to sign autographs for the kids. It was a cool atmosphere.”
Romonoyske and Schmidt tend to get bit by the cycling bug whenever they attend a race, but decided not to hit the trails immediately following Wednesday’s start to Stage 3, opting instead to watch coverage of the race on the JumboTron at the Riverwalk Center Lawn.
Although disappointed in the delay in race coverage, Romonoyske said he was impressed with the crowds that turned out in Breckenridge for both Tuesday’s Stage 2 finish and the Stage 3 start.
“You could tell from (Tuesday’s TV coverage) that the crowd was a lot bigger this year,” Romonoyske said. “It looked like there was a good crowd of people up on Hoosier Pass. It was exciting to watch.”
For locals who have not yet received their fill of cycling action, the JumboTron will remain at the Riverwalk Center Lawn through the duration of the USA Pro Challenge. Live coverage begins at 11 a.m. daily and continues through Sunday afternoon, when riders are slated to cross the Stage 7 finish line in Denver.