Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aspen Events – Bicycle Races - Coors Classic to USA Pro Challenge

USA Pro Challenge Bicycle Race - pre-race fina...
USA Pro Challenge Bicycle Race -  Aspen Event
Pre-Race view (credit: richpalpine)

Now that the 2012 Aspen Music Festival season has officially come to an end, the town has been focused on the next big event, the 2012 USA ProChallenge premier bicycle race. 

Nicknamed “America’s Race”, this event has created a frenzy of pre-race activity and anticipation in Aspen, as well as all of the other Colorado host cities. For the next, few days, activities in these towns will concentrate on the preparation for and execution of this event, hoping that it will bring some much-desired exposure to the state and what it has to offer outside of  the perhaps better-known winter outdoor activities of skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

While an event of this nature is relatively new for many of the hosting Colorado communities, in Aspen it offers the opportunity to resurrect summertime bicycle race glory of bygone days.  Remember the Coors Classic?

Coors International Bicycle Classic – Aspen Bicycle Racing History


The USA Pro Challenge evokes memories of the Coors Classic (and its precursor, the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic) run in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, and really is one of the only major international pro bicycling events run on US soil since that time.

During its eight year run, the Coors Classic featured such well-known US and world-class racers as Greg LeMond, Davis Phinney, Bernard Hinault, and Jeannie Longo. One of the highlights of the circuit was the “Suicide Hill” stage held at Snowmass Village, Colorado, which required riders to ascend a road with a pitch so steep that it necessitates heating in the winter in order to remain safely useable.

Other Notable Aspen Bicycle Races


While the Coors Classic is perhaps the best well-known precursor to the USA Pro Challenge, other notable bicycle racing events have taken place in Aspen and nearby as well.

Annual Bike Race from Basalt to Glenwood Springs


Historically, it seems like Aspen’s captivation with the sport seems to have begun in the late 1890’s. A headline from July 25, 1899 in The Aspen Tribune read, Aspen boys; Captur[ed] Two of the Best Prizes in the Road Race From Basalt to Glenwood”. Apparently, according to the Tribune, “over 1000 people witnessed the race, which was spirited and fast, considering the heavy condition of the road.” - 

Aspen Alpine Cup


I didn’t even realize that at one time there was an event called the “Aspen Alpine Cup Bike Race” held in the area, but it appears that this precursor to the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic was fairly well known and was purported to be “…one of the most grueling…” bicycle racing events “…ever held over high mountain roads.”-

My Aspen Bike Racing Experiences


I do like bike riding, but I am not now, nor ever have been a bike racer (or wannabe bike racer). I do, however, have a few fond memories of some of these Aspen-related bicycle racing events.

While of course I wasn’t there for the Basalt to Glenwood race, and I was too young to remember the Aspen Alpine Cup, I do remember the Red Zinger and Coors Classic.

In particular, I recall the Coors Classic's “Suicide Hill” stage. This was the first time I realized how grueling bike racing can be. I also remember watching the racers grinding around original curve in Aspen, sometimes crashing and falling down into Neale Avenue as they rounded the curve.  This was the first time I grasped how exciting but dangerous the sport could be.

Hopefully, this upcoming USA Pro Challenge will create new memorable bicycle racing experiences for me and the other eager spectators watching the event – last year I grappled for a place near the finish line of last year’s USA Pro Challenge and actually saw very little.

This year, since I live on the route, one-half block away from the finish line, I was hoping to get some decent photos of  the racers nearing the end of this demanding stage, but the tents for people “more important than me”…I mean VIP for $500… tents lining this part of the route unfortunately block the view from my house.  As you can see in the image at the beginning of this post, even from my roof, the view of the course is almost completely obstructed.

Maybe, I can at least manage to get a few “classic” helmet shots to pass on!

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