Best ways to enjoy the USA Pro Challenge
The speed. The crowds. The colorful racing kits. The Colorado scenery. On their own these things are great; together they are Colorado’s premier road cycling event, the USA Pro Challenge.
I feel fortunate to have seen at least one stage of the USA Pro Challenge in person each year since the first race in 2011. Coming from a competitive cycling background, I probably get more excited about this race than the average person, but I’ve also seen that you don’t have to be a racing enthusiast to enjoy this fantastic event.
If you haven’t seen a stage in person yet, I’d encourage you to go. Here are a few tips to help optimize your race viewing experience:
Where to watch
This year’s Pro Challenge passes through Aspen, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Gunnison, Vail, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Denver and other beautiful Colorado towns. My advice—study the route and pick your favorite finishing town or climb. This is where most of the action can be found.
Climbs—At bike races, climbs are a popular choice for spectators. They offer race drama and the peloton usually gets spread out. Upsides: more bang for your viewing buck, party atmosphere; Downsides: difficult to leave quickly after the race has passed
Finishing towns—Finishing towns at the USA Pro Challenge have a lot to offer. You can cruise around the expo, pick up some free stuff, fuel up on food and enjoy a cold beverage all in one location. Upside: the finishing expos are fun to experience and are great for socializing; Downside: you may not see as much of the race as you would watching it on TV
Secluded spots—Other spots to watch are along flatter sections of the race and less popular climbs. Upside: you might end up on TV (have your “Hi, Mom” sign ready!); Downside: the race will pass by very quickly
USA Pro Challenge Tour Tracker—You can watch the race on the Tour Tracker app on the side of the road until the race reaches your location. This combines the perspective you get from watching a race on TV with the in-person experience. Just don’t get too sucked into your phone to enjoy the enthusiasm and excitement of race spectating!
Things to bring
Suggested items to bring to the USA Pro Challenge:
- Phone—Take photos, call your friends, tweet, post and stream Tour Tracker
- Rain jacket—For that unpredictable Colorado weather
- Cowbell—Some people can’t stand cowbells, but I view them as a fun part of the atmosphere of competitive cycling. Plus, if you have scrawny cyclist arms like me, waving a cowbell can offer much needed upper body exercise.
- Costume—I have seen some fun and ridiculous outfits at the USA Pro Challenge. If it’s your thing, dress up. I do recommend something that breathes well and potentially incorporates a hat.
- Bike—Study the route and see if you can catch the race from a few spots, or ride to the finish area and park your bike at the race expo.
- Non-cycling shoes—If you ride to the race, you will appreciate having a pair of non-cycling shoes to muck around in. Related side note: Running alongside the riders during the race can be exhilarating, but it can also be disruptive to the racing and potentially disrespectful to the racers.
The lasting effect
I hear from many of our members and others that The Red Zinger and Coors Classic, predecessors to the USA Pro Challenge, were their first introduction to bicycle racing. For some, they inspired a life-long pursuit of bicycle riding. I believe the USA Pro Challenge is having a similar effect on the next generation of Colorado bicyclists.
Getting more people riding bikes and building enthusiasm around bicycling are key components of Bicycle Colorado’s mission. That is why Bicycle Colorado has been involved with the race since its inception.
Since 2011, we’ve hosted legislators to allow them to see first hand how popular the race is and how much economic impact it has on our state. We’ve also offered bicycle rodeos to help kids learn bike handling skills, cultivating the next generation of cyclists and race fans. This year, we are also helping with bicycle parking at each finishing town to make it easier and more fun to ride your bike to the race.
Whether you just like a good community event or you live and breath bicycle racing, the USA Pro Challenge offers a little something for everyone. Check out this year’s race, August 18 through 24.