Today was Boulder's day to play host for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a 7-day stage race that makes its way through a good swath of Colorado. There's been a lot of excitement and anticipation in this town for a while (especially since the town wasn't part of the race last year), and with the finish line atop the locally famous Flagstaff Mountain, the buzz was growing as this weekend approached.
So this morning, we packed up a couple backpacks with gear necessary to make it through the day... water, camp chairs, sunscreen, sidewalk chalk, homemade posters, bubbles, snacks, a cowbell, etc. You know... bike-race-watching stuff. With said backpacks on backs, we walked down to the nearest bus stop and caught the public bus that goes downtown and made our way to our first viewing point for the race. It wasn't terribly crowded where we were -- people were just one-deep along the side of the road -- but it offered good viewing and was a quite convenient starting point to get to viewing point #2.
Once the race cleared viewing point #1, we, accompanied by some similarly minded friends, began our quest to get up on Flagstaff and find a place well up on the hill to see the suffer-fest that was due in about 3 hours time. The first part of this quest involved taking a hiking trail to get to the road itself. What the trail lacked in length (0.9 miles) it made up for in elevation gain (about 560 feet, or an average grade of around 11%.) Those figures notwithstanding, the atmosphere on the trail was jovial. Once we reached the road, we took a break to eat some lunch and take in the mass of fellow spectators making their way up the road on bike or foot. (The road was closed to auto traffic the previous night sometime.) We joined them in short order, and began our own ascent of Flagstaff Road.
We were only about 0.5 mile from the bottom of the climb (via road) at this point, and about 3.5 miles worth of pavement sat between us and the finish. We knew we had a too late of a start to get ourselves a spot along the finishing section, but if we could find a place in the upper half of the climb, we'd be happy. Amidst bikes, cyclists, and all manner of pedestrians in all manner of costumes, we followed the road to a switchback about 1.5 miles from the finish, and "made camp" there. Unlike our first viewing point, we could easily tell this wasn't going to be a "one deep" stretch of road... there was still about 90 minutes until the first racers arrived, and there were plenty of people already on the shoulder of the road, and plenty still making their way up.
In the meantime, we unpacked our backpacks and began utilizing some of the implements we brought along... Chloe and I chalked the road a little bit (it wasn't easy to do with people constantly streaming by), Chloe and her friends Evan, Olivia and Mandy blew bubbles and handed out extra bottles to other kids who passed by, and warmed-up the cow bell by ringing it for those who chose to ascend by bike.
It was amazing how quickly time flew, for it seemed in no time we began hearing the helicopter (it provides the aerial coverage of the front of the race) and seeing the very first race-related vehicles that are up the road a bit from the racers making sure the course is clear and providing updates on the race situation via a PA system. More cars and motorcycles -- some race officials, some state law enforcement -- continued to build the crescendo.
And then, all fun and craziness broke loose as we saw the first cyclist approaching, trying to protect his breakaway status. He was swarmed by the crowd, and given near-deafening encouragement and support. The same held true for the next few short minutes, as those who were chasing him down for the stage win, and those contending to win the overall race, made their way through the gauntlet of spectators screaming, blowing their horns and ringing their cow bells. Racers trickled up the mountain for the next 15 minutes or so, each one getting a fine "Welcome to Flagstaff" salute. We began our descent after the "Broom Wagon" came by, and enjoyed the still-festival-like atmosphere all the way back to the trail we used to reach the road on our ascent.
As if the day wasn't "Boulder" enough, during our way down the dirt trail, we saw a rather large bear on an adjacent hillside (about 75 yards away) and then once in town, met up with some more friends for a post-race burger and beer at one of our favorite watering holes.
All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
For a video clip of some of the action on Flagstaff, follow this link.
- The clip is in 2 sections: the first is us shortly after we reached Flagstaff Road from the dirt trail, and walking towards Viewing Point #2; the second section is of the first racers coming by.
- On the topic of the racers, the first one you see is of eventual stage winner Rory Sutherland; the third racer is Jens Voigt. Later you'll see Andreas Kloden, and a little after him is Levi Leipheimer breaking away from Tejay van Garderen (in yellow jersey) and Christian Vande Velde (shortly after they go by, you'll hear Chloe correctly state she saw Tejay, and I incorrectly dismissing her.)
We didn't take a lot of photos today, but here are some.