Aspen to host two stages of Pro Cycling Challenge in '12

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenDecember 8, 2011
America's sexiest cycling race is not only coming to Aspen next summer but it is staying the night.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge again selected Aspen as one of a dozen cities that will host the week-long bike race, officials confirmed Thursday evening, hours after The Denver Post broke the news.
George Hincapie won the "Queen Stage" of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Aspen.
Photo by Stefanie Deutsch Michejda

Over the summer, when the wildly popular event made its debut, the cyclists finished the queen stage in Aspen and then the race and its entourage quickly moved on to the next town. But in 2012, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will feature the same grueling grind over 12,126-foot Cottonwood Pass and 12,095-foot Independence Pass in a 131-mile odyssey from Gunnison to Aspen — which many believed was the most exciting stage in 2011 — and then, the next day, the race will go back up Independence Pass, down to Twin Lakes and into Leadville before heading through Minturn and climbing up to the village at Beaver Creek.

To have one stage finish in Aspen and another begin here is quite a coup for city and business leaders who were hoping the event and its followers would spend more time and money downtown. In all, there were 25 cities in Colorado that formally bid on hosting the race in 2012 and nearly 40 cities initially expressed interest.

There are four new cities joining the 2012 race: Durango (said to be home to more professional cyclists, national champions and Olympians per capita than any other town in the United States) Telluride, Montrose and Boulder.

“By incorporating iconic cycling cities like Boulder and Durango in our second-year race we will further build the virtual postcard for the state of Colorado that we established in our inaugural year,” Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, said in a prepared statement. “The host cities selected for the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge will enable us to showcase the beauty and hospitality of Colorado to a worldwide audience.”

Aspen has strong ties to the event. Part-time resident and cycling legend Lance Armstrong concocted the idea for a statewide race while pedaling through the mountains above his home here one day. Armstrong called up then-Gov. Bill Ritter and soon the two were scheming over lunch in Aspen. Ever since, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland — a passionate bicycling enthusiast and questionable speller — has eagerly rallied the city around the event.

"We are Aspen! the [sic] ONLY host city with a finish (Coming in over The Pass) and a start (Leaving over The Pass the enxt day. [sic] We are the Queen Stage," Mayor Ireland wrote in a Facebook status update Thursday night. "Thank you everyone who made this a reality from racers toi [sic] volunteers to sponsors."

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge attracted more than 1 million spectators and brought $83.5 million to Colorado, organizers said. It also was televised live to an international audience in more than 150 countries and territories.

Only a year old, the challenging quest through the Rocky Mountains is already one of the world's elite races.

Next summer, there will be five ascents over passes topping 10,000 feet.

"Knowing that in 2012 we will start in one corner of the state and suffer through more mountain passes than any other race of this caliber in North America is exciting," said Levi Leipheimer, the overall and first-ever winner of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. "Add in the altitude factor and you’ve got one beast of a race.”

The 2011 version started in Colorado Springs and ended in Denver.

Next time around, the race will start in Durango and end in Denver.

Also new in 2012 is the placement of the individual time trial on the final day of racing in Denver, which officials say should keep fans holding their breath to the end to see who will be awarded the overall victory of the seven days of fiercely competitive racing. In its first year, the race's individual time trial went through Valley Village and up Vail Pass.

Vail Mayor Andy Daly told sister site Real Vail he was deeply disappointed the cyclists won't be rolling through his zip code. The time trial in Vail this summer was the only stage that stayed true to the original Coors Classic race, which inspired the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. It is also where Leipheimer built a lead that held up all the way to Denver.

"Obviously, it’s a tremendous disappointment to all of us in Vail given the tremendous effort we made to put together a world-class time trial that was viewed by probably 35,000 people,” Daly told Real Vail. “It’s a real letdown.”

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is scheduled Aug. 20 through Aug. 26.

Here is the schedule:

• Monday, Aug. 20 Stage 1 Durango – Telluride
• Tuesday, Aug. 21 Stage 2 Montrose – Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte
• Wednesday, Aug. 22 Stage 3 Gunnison – Aspen
• Thursday, Aug. 23 Stage 4 Aspen – Beaver Creek/Vail Valley
• Friday, Aug. 24 Stage 5 Breckenridge – Colorado Springs
• Saturday, Aug. 25 Stage 6 Golden – Boulder
• Sunday, Aug. 26 Stage 7 Denver (individual time trial)

Details of the entire 520-mile route will be announced in the spring.

Video shot by Real Aspen cycling correspondent Marek Michejda

Follow Troy Hooper on Twitter

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