McAbee: Summit’s a great place to catch cycling fever
Last weekend’s Stage Five of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge that came through Summit County turned out to be a real highlight. I wasn’t around for the old Coors Classic, but having pro cycling back in Colorado has already spawned plans for next year. Those involved must feel like proud parents with very high expectations. A lot of people can’t wait to see how this thing grows up.
I like the way the race builds in intensity as the stage progresses from start to finish. The riders get more aggressive and angrier as the race goes on as they try to position themselves near the front to give one of their team members a chance to win.
In Breck, I stood in a local watering hole, watering myself with some friends watching the race on the television and feeling the intensity build among the patrons and passers by. When the riders made it to the familiar roads of our Summit County home, we began to yell.
I took great comfort in the grimaces on the riders’ faces as they tore up Swan Mountain Road toward the finish. I felt justified in the anguish that little climb puts me through on occasion, despite the fact that the professionals climbed it about 10 times faster than I usually do. It reminded me of what my friend Brad once said: “Hills don’t get any easier, you just climb them faster.”
Adding to the excitement at the finish were the amazing people who walked, biked, hiked, camped and sauntered up Swan Mountain to watch and cheer the racers.
I’ve been watching pro cycling on television for about 15 years. Until now, it’s been mostly European races. I’ve always marveled at the fans on some of the storied climbs of the Tour de France, Galibier, Alp d’Huez, Mont Ventoux. But the crowds on Swan were something else.
I felt so proud of my neighbors and friends. Leave it to the people of Summit County, as a friend said: “Yep, if there is one thing we can do here, it’s throw a party on the side of a mountain.”
Scott Porter was one of the spectators on Swan. He spoke of the building intensity that started early leading up to when the riders would pass by and of the exuberance of the moment when Schleck appeared followed by the rest of the racers – a moment highly anticipated and long awaited.
I saw some guys playing a drinking game at the finish under one of the big screens. Every time the announcers said “peloton” they would take a drink. I spoke the word “peloton” into my phone. My translator app returned with “pack.” Cool.
From the air the peloton usually looks like a swarm of bees to me. But last Saturday, I began to see the similarities between the pack and male gametes racing to the prize.
The pack organizes, the little spermatozoa jockey for position at the front until at the end one wiggles free and clear of the rest showing his genetic superiority and plunges through the zona pellucida, arms raised above his head.
Now, I realize not everyone in Summit County will recognize cycling as a sexy sport. The Spandex can often be a little off-putting to those who don’t ride. I get that. The very act of putting on a uniform that leaves little to the imagination and makes you look like a tropical fish only to pedal around on roads built for cars must seem to some just the mildly annoying antics of a fitness-crazed weirdo. And at worst it must seem like a chance to score a few points in a game of see-how-close-I-can-get-to-the-idiot-on-the-bike.
Certainly many eschew the opportunity to “be the motor” and to pedal a bike, preferring the guttural whine of an engine when climbing the roads around here. I get that, too. I wouldn’t want my elk hunting buddies to know I am a cyclist, nor do I let my cycling buddies know about my elk hunting friends. But over the next few weeks, while the cyclists around here are feeling as frisky as a bull elk in rut, please indulge us the opportunity to do our best Levi Leipheimer impersonations.
Just the other day, I foolishly found myself using the whole of the road while descending a hill. I just had this sudden desire to shave seconds off of my time and hairs off my legs.
The snow will fall soon and this will be all over. The bikes will be stored away until starlings sing and the snow is gone again. In the meantime, if you see someone cycling on the road roll down your window and shout something positive and encouraging. The cyclist will feel like a pro and you’ll be practicing for next year’s Pro Cycling Challenge.
Jeff McAbee lives in Breckenridge. He’s a campus supervisor at Summit High School. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jeff_McAbee.
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