Peloton in quick burst through Westside

       The eventual winner of last week's USA Pro Challenge cycling race was almost invisible on Stage 5, which passed through the Westside Aug. 24 en route to the finish in downtown Colorado Springs.

Stage 5 of the Pro Challenge Aug. 24... The peloton turns off Gateway Road to 30th Street. Eventual stage winner Tyler Farrar is at center in blue helmet.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Christian Vande Velde placed 29th among 103 riders in the 117-mile, mostly downhill trek from Breckenridge. Tyler Farrar, emerging, from the front pack (“peloton”) of 68 riders with a furious sprint in the last 100 yards, surged ahead by the length of half a bicycle to win the stage.
       But under the sport's rules, because Vande Velde was in that pack, he lost no time to anyone in it who was ahead of him, including Tejay van Garderen (14th), who was at the time the overall race leader.
       This scoring convention was to help Vande Velde going into the final two days of the race. In Stage 6, which ended with a grueling climb up Boulder's Flagstaff Mountain, the 36-year-old American rider fell behind defending champion Levi Leipheimber, but only by 9 seconds, and gained 12 on Van Garderen. Then, in the Challenge's concluding nine-mile Stage 7 time trial in Denver Aug. 26, Vande Velde's scorching pace was enough to hold off Van Garderen by 21 seconds and Leipheimer by 24.
       In Stage 5, as the racers sped through the Westside on a course that included the Garden of the Gods and Old Colorado City, scattered crowds cheered and took photos. In the downtown, several thousand onlookers were packed around the finish area.
       As in the inaugural event in 2011, the downtown was also where all the Colorado Springs stage's official festivities were planned. In fact, the only advance race notice that Westside merchants received, according to various reports, was about a week before when race volunteers dropped off information about road closures and no-parking times.
       Nevertheless, the consensus among Westside merchants seemed to be that at least the TV coverage helped inform the world that the Waldo Canyon Fire no longer has a grip on the region. Particularly enthusiastic in that regard on the day of Stage 5 was Bonnie Frum, director of operations at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center. “We're so lucky to have that [the Pro Challenge] here, for people to see pictures of the Garden not burned out. We still get calls about that. I'm just thrilled this is happening.”
       Theresa Barbera, owner of Mountain Man in Old Colorado City, said the event “did affect business all day, but I feel it's a wonderful event for Colorado Springs.” She also thanked the race organizers for opening West Colorado Avenue back up quickly.
       The avenue from 30th Street east had been closed around 2 p.m. At the time the racers were still outside Woodland Park, but a police officer explained that a time cushion was needed to be sure everyone was off the road. Averaging speeds over 30 mph (60 mph downhill), the racers came out of Ute Pass a little before 2:30 and were entering the downtown before 3.
       The road reopened around 3 p.m., Barbera said, so the actual closure was only about an hour.
       Old Colorado City had an unfortunate close miss with the TV coverage. Vehicle cameras were following the peloton as it turned off 30th east on Colorado Avenue as far as the 2700 block, but at that point the NBC crew switched to a helicopter view of avenue rooftops, without mentioning Old Colorado City by name. The next vehicle view showed the riders as they passed the Goodwill building in the 2300 block.

Stage 5 of the Pro Challenge Aug. 24... On Colorado Avenue, near Eighth Street.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Consisting of seven stages in all, the Aug. 20-26 event was successful as a whole, according to Jim Rutberg, media director for Carmichael Training Systems (CTS), and plans are already forming for a third annual Challenge in 2013. As for the Colorado Springs stage, “It was a great day of racing,” the CTS official said. “It shows the value Colorado Springs places on sports at the very highest level.”
       Located in the historic Roundhouse at 21st Street and Highway 24, CTS was one of the lead businesses in bringing the Challenge to this area and has been involved in volunteer efforts related to the event.
       From a racing standpoint, Stage 5 was unique in this year's Pro Challenge because it was more downhill than uphill, Rutberg explained. This kept the riders packed closer together because going downhill “everyone was at maximum speed,” he said.
       As the riders entered the Springs, a breakaway of three riders (remaining from an initial group that had done a breakaway during the early climb of Hoosier Pass) still led the peloton by several hundred yards. This continued through the Westside, but those three riders were sucked up by the peleton during the three downtown circuits and would fall back in the pack by the finish.

Support vehicles follow the peloton east on Colorado Avenue under I-25 near the end of the Pro Challenge's Stage 5 Aug. 24. The riders were heading toward downtown, where they would stay in the same type of grouping through three circuits leading up to a close finish.
Westside Pioneer photo

       It won't be known for some months if Colorado Springs will be chosen as a host city again for the 2013 Pro Challenge, but Cindy Aubrey of the Mayor's Office said she believes it's a possibility.

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