USA pro: A bike racer’s fond memories
The Aspen Times
Flash back to August 2011 in downtown Denver.
Professional cycling teams had just completed the inaugural USA Pro Challenge, the first major Colorado stage race in more than 20 years.
Their team RVs were parked along a closed street near Civic Center Park in front of the state Capitol and its glistening golden dome.
There was BMC, a super power in international cycling with reigning Tour de France champion Cadel Evans headlining an all-star team that included Tejay van Garderen (who had just finished third overall in the race known then as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge).
At the next encampment, Aspen native and pro cyclist Alex Hagman sat on a plastic folding chair in the shade of the modest Jelly Belly team RV.
Happily exhausted after finishing the Colorado tour that included a stage finish in his hometown (won by BMC’s George Hincapie), Hagman ran his fingers through his close-cropped blond locks.
An 11-year-old Denver youngster, race program and Sharpie in hand, walked confidently up to Hagman.
“Can I have your autograph?” she asked.
“This doesn’t happen very often,” Hagman said as he reached for the program.
With a contagious smile his friends have known for a lifetime, he handed the autographed memorabilia back to the youngster.
“Are you sure you want … this?” Hagman asked. “Really, you should go over there (to BMC). You should get Cadel and Tejay.”
Two years later, in 2013, Alex Hagman was back on that same street in downtown Denver at the end of another cycling week of the USA Pro Challenge.
After another strong overall ride for Jelly Belly, including the opportunity to race in the inaugural Aspen/Snowmass Circuit Race, Hagman sat down outside the team trailer in downtown Denver, and he took off his professional cycling shoes for the last time.
Hagman — Aspen High School graduate, mountain biker and pro road racer — retired from the pro cycling ranks.
The 10-year professional, who collected collegiate mountain biking national championships while at Fort Lewis College in Durango, also had the chance to race last year in his new hometown of Fort Collins.
He entertained contract offers to return for another year of racing but opted to start his post-racing career in his new home.
“I decided it was a good time to retire,” Hagman said in an interview with The Aspen Times. “It feels great. I’m very happy I retired competitively.”
He said he wanted to go out on a good note — like the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.
His professional career, which started after winning three individual national collegiate mountain bike titles at Fort Lewis, enabled Hagman to race all across North America as well as exotic locales like China, Korea and Japan. He raced also in Mexico.
“Each race was so unique,” Hagman said.
As he talked about racing in places like Pennsylvania or Oregon or New Mexico, Hagman kept cycling back to Colorado and back to the USA Pro Challenge.
“My last race was so cool. The USA Pro Challenge had that stage in Fort Collins, my hometown now,” Hagman said. “That really made it special.”
He said it was gratifying to race in front of family and friends in the Aspen area as well as family and friends again in Fort Collins.
“I was very, very happy with my race,” Hagman, 30, said after a top-40 finish in the USA Pro Challenge for the second time.
The Aspen native eased into his retirement this summer by joining work friends on the annual Ride the Rockies bicycle tour.
“That was so great,” Hagman said. “You could stop at rest areas … stop and enjoy the view.”
Then, of course, there were the beers and barbecues.
Along with a relaxed pace on the bike.
Hagman said he still follows cycling and watches races.
And, he said, he’s excited to follow the 2014 USA Pro Challenge and his former teammates and racing colleagues.
“The highlight for me … in cycling would be winning the collegiate national titles. That will always be the highlight,” Hagman said. “That was a very fulfilling experience for me at Fort Lewis.”
He said the most gratifying aspect of his time with Fort Lewis cycling was being part of the mountain bike team’s national championship.
He also won the individual cross-country title and twice won national titles in short track mountain bike racing.
“It was special to win for the school. The coaches there were very supportive,” he said with a nod to longtime Fort Lewis cycling director Dave Hagan. “Collegiate racing is where I got my feet wet.”
Hagman, known then as “Shaggy” for his blond dreadlocks, said he learned the basics of being a bicycle racer and a team racer while with the Skyhawks in Durango.
Hagman said he’s excited to take what he learned at Fort Lewis and what he learned as a pro into the high school cycling program in Fort Collins. He’ll work with the prep mountain bikers this fall.
“We’ll have a road program in the spring,” he said. “It will be fun coaching the younger kids.”
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