This is the second in a two-part series about the culture of cycling and how it’s gained popularity in Summit County with the advent of the USA Pro Challenge.
Decked out in a green and white Tour de France hat, Will Taylor, of Breckenridge, was keeping an eye on the USA Pro Challenge cyclists on TV at Breckenridge Brewery & Pub on Monday, Aug. 18, as they biked Aspen’s Stage 1.
“I loved watching BMX in the past, but now as I have gotten older I appreciate the endurance and strength of the riders,” he said. “These guys are beasts.”
Though only a handful of people were glued to the cycling race broadcast on TVs at bars and restaurants around Breckenridge, those who were said they felt a connection to the event because of its link to Summit County, which will host Stage 5 on Friday, Aug. 22. Sitting at the bar at Kenosha Steakhouse on Monday, Bill Cole, of Breckenridge, said he was watching the race for the sole reason that Breckenridge is a part of it.
“Watching them come down and around town, up and around and over,” he said. “I didn’t get to watch last year because I had to work and probably will again this year, but standing on the street watching them come by — it’s so much fun to watch.”
RIGHT IN THE ACTION
Having Pro Challenge stages start and finish in Breckenridge the past few years has given cycling a bit of a boost in popularity locally. Taylor, who works at Alpine Sports, said he’d try to catch a glimpse of the riders coming down Breckenridge Main Street for the Stage 5 finish during his work shift on Friday. That sort of right-out-the-door novelty makes the event much more interesting, he said.
“You don’t feel that with the Tour de France because it’s overseas,” Taylor said.
Lee Hildebrandt, of Breckenridge, grew up with cycling in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and now works at Alpine Sports. Hildebrandt was watching Stage 1 at the Gold Pan Saloon in Breckenridge on Monday and said he was looking forward to getting a chance to see the racers, both the Tour de France guys and the up-and-comers.
“It gets the Tour de France guys over here, which for years they didn’t have a reason to come here,” he said. “It gets the developmental teams in here, too. You can see the next generation coming up. I’ve watched every year since it started. It brings exposure to the town and the cycling community; it’s a destination for cycling now.”
Scott Wescott, owner of the Wilderness Sports stores in Frisco and Dillon, said the proximity of the race allows people to have an up-close experience with cycling that helps build a connection to the sport.
“Biking is one the best sports to spectate,” Wescott said. “People who are normally reserved can be completely bananas. I’ve seen some of the quietest, most reserved athletes I know wearing purple spandex with polka dots unitards, running down the side of the road. You don’t see that with most sports. You’re right there on the side of the road, sometimes literally on the road. There are no barriers, and it’s incredible. You can’t get that experience with a sport anywhere.
“I think any time you have that immediacy, where it’s right in front of you, it gets people excited and they can start to understand the sport more. It plays a big part in getting people involved in cycling and gets people wanting to go out and ride.”
SEE IT, RIDE IT
Watching the best of the best cyclists run a course through your own neighborhood, on streets that you have ridden, makes the Pro Challenge fun to watch, said Jonathan Enns, marketing manager for Pioneer Sports in Frisco.
“It’s kind of cool to have the top cyclists from all over the world competing in your backyard, on the same roads and bike paths and trails that you ride on a daily basis,” Enns said. “They are competing on the highest level in those same areas.”
A few years ago, the riders traveled over Swan Mountain, a route that many local cyclists are familiar with, and Enns said the riders commented that the stretch was the part of the race that felt the most like the Tour de France, because of how the community embraced it and got into the excitement of the event
“The Breckenridge stage, I live off Wellington Road, and they ride up there and make the turn to climb up Moonstone Road, which is one of the harder climbs of the whole week of races,” Enns said. “I can walk up there from my house, and the top riders in the world are riding on it.”
Wescott said the USA Pro Challenge highlights the fact that we have some of the best riding in the country right out our back doors, which is why the race came to Colorado in the first place and has continued to make a stop in Summit County.
“I am kind of a bike geek,” Wescott said. “I love to see the actual cyclists, how fast they are riding. They are riding the same roads I ride all the time. It’s amazing to see how much faster these guys can ride than I can ever dream of.”
The Pro Challenge has been a good fit for Summit County’s athletic population and will likely grow in popularity, hopefully building the sport of cycling with it, Wescott said.
“We like to get out and play really hard,” he said, “but we also like to enjoy ourselves and we kind of tend to be a little crazy, and spectating for a bike race and a bike race emulate 100 percent of that: Insane athletes in this element of craziness, and that is Summit County in a nutshell.”