Colorado is fit for pro bicycle racing

The atmosphere in Vail was buzzing Thursday, as bicyclist after bicyclist pushed themselves to the limit to see who could climb a steep, 10-mile section of Vail Pass the fastest.

And a mountain resort that’s usually a somewhat sleepy town in mid-August was packed with cycling fans — exuberant, oddly attired cycling fans. There was a man in a banana suit, Captain America and more. Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla described it as “Mardi Gras in August.”

We’re not trying to claim it was the equivalent of the Daytona 500, the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby all rolled up in one event. However, at none of those events can the average spectator get close enough to top athletes that they can see the muscles strain and watch the sweat fly. And these are some of the world’s top athletes in their sport — former Olympians and members of Tour de France teams.

Furthermore, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is an athletic competition that is uniquely suited to Colorado’s landscape and its people.

Where else in this country will you find such aggressive cycling terrain so close to so many large resorts and population centers?

And no other state in the country boasts the overall level of fitness that Colorado’s population does. Indeed, a significant number of Coloradans — many of them from the Western Slope — have tested their cycling skills and endurance on some of the same routes that the pros traversed, albeit at a more sedate pace.

Even those of us who aren’t regular road cyclists have pushed our physical abilites in the mountains — hiking, climbing, alpine and nordic skiing, mountain biking and more. We can appreciate the supreme athletic endeavor that is required to compete in races such as this.

It’s also worth noting that bicycle racing is different from many other sports because it isn’t held in arenas or venues specifically designed for the sport. It is held on roads built to handle motorized vehicles, and the cyclists must contend with all the differences in course, terrain, and style of competition. There are times when they race as a group and times when they ride in individual time trials, as they did Thursday.

All this makes it even more interesting for spectators, who can be assured they won’t see the same thing at any stage of the race. It’s why millions tune in to watch bicycle racing on television, and this race is giving Colorado great exposure.

The 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge concludes today in Denver with a race from Golden to Denver — by way of Lookout Mountain. We truly hope and expect that when the 2012 race is held — and those in subsequent years — there will be a stage in Mesa County.

Most people here are aware that, at least for now, such a stage won’t include a race over Colorado National Monument. But it could include climbs over other rugged stretches of Western Colorado landscape.

Pro bicycle racing is a good fit for Colorado and we’re glad to see it return after more than two decades. We can only hope it will return to this part of the state, as well.


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