The inside scoop on 2015 USA Pro Challenge coverage in Summit County |

The inside scoop on 2015 USA Pro Challenge coverage in Summit County

Jockey Victor Espinoza (center) celebrates aboard American Pharoah after winning the 140th Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore in May.

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I’m unreasonably excited for this year’s USA Pro Challenge.

Why is my excitement unreasonable? Because this isn’t my first rodeo, so to speak. I’ve covered the race for weekly and seasonal magazines since the inaugural year in 2011, when Vail Pass was still home to the time trial and Levi Leipheimer was still slaying it on the pro circuit.

But, in four years, I’ve never been in the crowd at a stage start or finish. I’ve never even had the chance to interview riders face to face, when all they can give is a 30-second sound bite before ambling off to a hotel somewhere.

No, my past Pro Challenge coverage has always from afar, talking with a legend like Davis Phinney via conference call for a preview of the Vail Pass route or chatting strategy and nutrition with former Boulder pro Timmy Duggan a full month before the starting gun. By the time the race came to Colorado, I was already working on the next round of weekly articles and rarely had time to catch any actual racing. (That, and like the majority of young locals, I was usually working two additional jobs in August. I’d only catch glimpses of the fanfare from the Avon Recreation Center or the Vail dispatch office, and that’s about it.)

But, this year is different. We (and the Pro Challenge) have dubbed 2015 the “summer of cycling” for a reason: Summit plays host to four of seven stages — the most for any single county in race history — and that alone is expected to draw massive crowds throughout the week. It’s huge news for a mountain community of 25,000-some-odd residents, and I’ll be wandering the crowd with a crew of reporters, photographers and videographers to capture it all: the winners, the losers, the in-betweeners, the crowds as well as the man-sized gorillas, bananas and pandas.

Now, I’m first to admit that we’ve shown cycling more love this summer than ever before. It’s kind of hard to believe, honestly, and I’m sure that non-stop coverage of races and athletes and everything else has seemed stifling at times. Believe me — I’m just as ready for another disappointing football season as the next Dallas Cowboys fan. (Yep, I’m a Cowboys fan from Denver.)

Truth is, it’s not every day that an international cycling race rolls through your backyard. I think of the Pro Challenge in terms of the Kentucky Derby: For most of my life, Derby Day in early May has been the kick-off to summer. My family and friends, all casual horse-race fans, would get together over barbecue, mint juleps and hastily drawn betting pools for a full day of celebration. Sure, the race itself lasts all of a minute, but there’s something about the pomp and circumstance of the derby I find appealing. The entire event is teeming with energy, from the race to derby hats to the mid-venue party.

One of these decades, I hope to visit Churchill Downs for a full weekend of rubbing elbows with revelers who, well, probably know more about horse racing than I’ll ever know, or ever want to know. Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two. But, for now, I’m content to get wrapped up in a single day of racing and revelry.

I see the Pro Challenge, then, as the Colorado equivalent of the derby. The race as a whole may last longer than a single day, but, for most spectators, the cyclists come and go as fast as racehorses. The real appeal of an event like this is getting lost in everything happening on the fringes: music, parties, camping and the pure energy of an international cycling race.

And, that’s where we come in. If you can’t make it to every Summit stage, keep an eye on the newspaper and website for daily coverage of everything Pro Challenge. We’ll have stage previews and wrap-ups, interviews with up-and-coming athletes, features on the course itself, photos from the thick of the fray and much, much more.

Like a bookend for the derby, the Pro Challenge is the unofficial kiss-off to summer in the Rockies. After all, Arapahoe Basin — home to a stage finish for the first time ever — will start blowing snow in the next few weeks, and opening day comes soon after. The summer of cycling will be over, and the next Pro Challenge will be months and months away.

Until then, I’m unreasonably excited for my first “real” Pro Challenge. And, we’re here to give you a front-row seat.

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