The USA Pro Challenge is a noisy event. While the competitors are huffing and puffing as their lungs contend with the altitude, the wheels of their bicycles hum and buzz on the road, the sound increasing as the team vehicles follow close behind at a rapid pace. Then there’s the crowd — yelling, whistling, pounding on the barrier and clanging their enthusiastic cowbells as the riders whip past.
While riders are focused on their race, they can’t help but notice the energy and excitement of the watching crowd, especially as roars rise into the air as they have along the course in Breckenridge these past two days.
“It’s like a big party,” said Shawn Hunter, co-chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Challenge. “I describe the whole race as, it’s like a playoff for another sport seven days in a row — the atmosphere, the buzz, and it just gets dialed up. I think the fact that the race was so dramatic made it even more exciting (Tuesday) but you can feel it just walking around town, the energy and the passion, and that’s why we’re here.”
Spectators began filling seats in the bleachers along the side of the starting line several hours before the Stage 3 start, making sure to get a good place to view the athletes before the race. Others lined up along the barrier between the stage and the starting line, clutching t-shirts, posters and Sharpie pens, hoping for a chance at nabbing an autograph.
“It’s been awesome. Breckenridge once again has exceeded our expectations,” Hunter said. “I think the crowds yesterday were bigger than they were here in 2011 and that was a Saturday, so for us to come in here Tuesday (and see) huge crowds, the riders acknowledge it and it looked fantastic on television.”
Boulder-based rider Lucas Euser, who’s riding for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, said that he definitely noticed the crowds during Tuesday’s Stage 2 finish.
“Everybody’s been so supportive. The finish (Tuesday) was incredible,” he said. “Moonstone Road was just packed full of awesome fans, and that’s driving for us because (if) you go to a finish line and you see five people, that’s not as motivating as it is to see hundreds and hundreds of people.”
Fellow Coloradan Timmy Duggan, with Team Saxo-Tinkoff, said that despite his acclimatization to the altitude, Tuesday’s climb on the Moonstone section was difficult, and would have been more so had it not been for all the encouragement from the sidelines.
“It’s a hard one, even though it’s short it’s pretty hard, but I was definitely psyched to see the crazy crowd on the side of the road,” he said with a grin. “The crowd here in Breck is always one of the best of the week and everyone who lives here and plays here is a cycling fan, I think, and it really shows on the roadside during the race.”
Even those who were not already familiar with Breckenridge and didn’t know what to expect found that the crowd’s enthusiasm was to their liking.
When asked what he thought of the Breckenridge atmosphere, Team Saxo-Tinkoff’s Christopher Juul Jensen, exclaimed, “Ah, amazing! It’s my first time racing in America.” Originally from Ireland, Jensen has declared for Denmark professionally, and said that his lungs are doing “relatively well, considering we’re halfway to the moon, so high up here.” Still, he’s enjoyed the spectators in Breckenridge.
“The atmosphere here is fantastic, the crowds are incredible, even if you’re (exhausted) like I was yesterday, they’re still so enthusiastic and encouraging, so it’s a really cool experience.”
Current race leader Lachlan Morton, with Team Garmin-Sharp, expressed his love of Breckenridge. “I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years. I did my training for this race here.”
Morton added that he was pleased to see Americans really embracing and understanding the sport, and showing their support on the sidelines. Although he enjoyed coming into town, he wasn’t able to hang out in Breckenridge the way he’d like to. But “I’d love to get back in, have some carrot cake at Clint’s. That’d be great,” he said with a laugh.
Hunter, who has owned a condo in Summit County for the past 20 years, agreed that the stages in Breckenridge have come together well, adding that it’s all due to the people behind the scenes.
“The leadership in Summit County has been awesome, … for three years in a row,” he said. “There’s a reason why we’ve been here three years in a row and it’s because we love the town of Breckenridge, we love all of Summit County and I’m pretty sure you’re going to see us in the future.”