The city of Boulder is gearing up for the upcoming arrival of Americas biggest and most prestigious bike race, the USA Pro Challenge.
Retired pro cyclist, Timmy Duggan, guest writes for The Boulder Source, covering a topic oh-so-near to his heart:
On August 24, many of the world’s best riders will embark on the final stage of the 7-day race, starting in Boulder with a few laps through downtown before heading south towards Lookout Mountain and then plunging to the finish line in downtown Denver. Known the world over as a paradise for athletes, Boulder provides a perfect backdrop to this world class competition.
I just retired from my professional road cycling career at the end of 2013 after competing in my third USA Pro Challenge. After doing all the biggest and best races around the world, I have to say that the last time the race came through Boulder, finishing atop iconic Flagstaff Mountain was among the most memorable moments of my career.
I never imagined when I started bike racing, traditionally a European centered sport, that a race of this caliber would be in my own back yard, and that I could race in front of all of my friends and family. The crowds were so big and vibrant in Boulder that I could hardly tell what street we were on as every meter of road was lined with several people deep. I was racing for the win, climbing up Flagstaff in a total daze brought on by exertion and the throngs of screaming fans.
The mountain I’d climbed a thousand times in training seemed totally unfamiliar.
Outside of just a handful of classic races, like the Tour de France and the Olympics, hardly anything topped the vibe and excitement in Boulder that day. This excitement will all be back on Sunday when Boulder, so passionate about sport, health, and enjoying the outdoors, rolls out the red carpet for the USA Pro Challenge.
Ever wonder what it takes to get this field of international athletes rolling down our Colorado roads during the Pro Challenge?
There is a lot going on, much more than the flash of color speeding down the road to the finish line. Planning for the Pro Challenge begins a year in advance, when the race organization meets with different communities across Colorado to analyze their bids for hosting the race.
Unfortunately, the race can’t visit every town every year, but Pro Challenge organizers develop a different route each year to keep the riders, spectators, and towns happy and excited. The race route is typically announced in a press conference a few months in advance so everybody can prepare properly. In the week before the race, teams start traveling to Colorado from around the world to prepare for the start of the race, which began yesterday in Aspen.
The field of around 130 participants consists of riders and teams from countries all over the world. Many of the top WorldTour teams, fresh off the Tour de France, will line up with some of the smaller domestic teams looking for their chance to shine on the world stage. The USA Pro Challenge presents a unique obstacle with its extreme altitude. The lowest elevation of the race on the front range is often higher than the alpine passes we race over in Europe! If you want to succeed here, you need to spend the time adjusting to altitude. Many teams or just individual riders arrive a week to ten days ahead of time for a purpose built training camp at altitude. Even if you just won the Tour de France a month ago, you really don’t stand a chance if you haven’t adapted to the thin air.
Each team is quite the operation in itself. On a WorldTour team like my former Team Cannondale, we will have our team bus, a box truck to store the equipment, two cars for the caravan that follows the riders, and a couple utility cars. For a team of 8 riders, there will be an entourage of staff in a variety of roles to keep them supported. The team is lead by the sport director, who manages the riders and staff on the ground at an event. We will typically have a couple of mechanics and two or three massage therapists, known as “soigneurs”, who provide critical massage therapy to the riders after the race, as well as handle all the food, laundry, hotel, and transportation logistics. A team chiropractor takes care of our niggling aches and pains while our team doctor handles any bigger issues–its always good when the doctor doesn’t have a whole lot to do during the race. At a prestigious race such as the USA Pro Challenge, a team will have a press officer or media liaison, as well as several sponsors and VIP supporters of the team who want to get a good look at the racing that they are funding.
The morning of one of the races, or stages, the staff is awake early, prepping the bikes as well as the food and water bottles for the day’s ride. The riders cruise to breakfast, taking in as much as 1000 calories of oatmeal, eggs, rice, and in America at least, pancakes and maple syrup to fuel 5+ hours on the bike that day. The riders hop in the bus to travel to the start, arriving about an hour before the gun goes off.
Typically the riders will remain in the bus for a while as they get ready, the only sanctuary from the calamity of fans just outside hunting for pictures and autographs. A few minutes before the start, riders leave the bus to go sign-in on the stage podium, chat with the race announcer and present to the fans. When the gun goes off on stage 7 in Boulder, the riders will face a couple of opening “neutral” laps in the downtown area, before the race really starts heading out of town. On the last day of the race, there is an interesting mix of tactics going on. The overall classification for the race will be mostly decided in the summit finishes and time trial in the previous days, so the leaders of the race will mostly be looking to stay out of trouble and maintain the status quo. Expect many riders to be attacking right from the gun in Boulder as its the last chance for the breakaway specialists as well! In summary, anything could happen on this final stage! The team in the yellow leader’s jersey will likely dictate the pace and control any breakaways, making sure that nobody dangerous gains time. With the climb of Lookout Mountain in the middle, it does present one last chance to shake the race up. However, with such a long ways to the finish line in Denver, any gains made by the fast climbers could be neutralized by the teams looking to stick together and bring it all back for a big field sprint. Its no parade lap, and it is sure to be exciting.
Hope to see you for the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge in downtown Boulder on Sunday!