Gunnison to Aspen. 131 miles. Up and over two 12,000 foot mountain passes. The USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) rolled into Aspen on Wednesday to the delight of 25,000+ spectators and a world-wide TV audience on Versus. A huge travelling bike expo, sponsor's row and a 3-day Pro Women's Stage Race with a criterium through town completed the scene.
The Silver Queen stage is the "highest, longest and hardest" stage of the entire race according to the UPCC Media Guide. A dirt road ascent up Cottonwood pass to the highest point in the 7-day event was followed by a grueling climb up Independence Pass. Then a nerve rattling decent on the rain-slicked, swithchbacks on highway 82 into the jam packed streets of Aspen. These guys were cruising down Independence Pass a 60 MPH on 1 inch thick tires.
The entire Aspen Core was buzzing with excitement although strict street crossing regulations inhibited any kind of travel through town. Wagner Park was swag central and filled to capacity with vendor booths and sponsor tents. The $750 per person VIP tent was packed with well heeled supporters, many wearing bike jersey's. The entire Aspen City Council and the all the Pitkin County Commissioners were visible fans. An entire downtown block was loaded with satellite trucks making cell service a little more dicey than normal. The media pit was a multi-national festival of fun. Apparently bicycle racing is the second most popular televised sport in the world, with soccer being #1. Aspen Spin didn't get up the pass, but all the podium finishers mentioned that the festive crowd at the top of Independence provided them with extra motivation. Part-Time Aspenite and current owner of the yellow jersey TeJay Van Garderen joked that "it took balls" to ride the rain slicked "sketchy" decent. Stage winner George Hincapie concluded the day by saying " it was nice to finish in this beautiful city, with my hands in the air".
The whole thing happens again in Vail tomorrow.
Stage 2 Top-3
- First – George Hincapie (USA) of BMC Racing Team
- Second – Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of HTC-Highroad
- Third – Tom Danielson (USA) of Garmin-Cervelo
- Quiznos Leader Jersey – Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of HTC-Highroad
- Nissan King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey – Walter Pedraza Morales (COL) of UNE-EPM
- Smashburger Sprint Jersey – Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team RadioShack
- Sheets Best Young Rider’s Jersey – Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of HTC-Highroad
- Exergy Most Aggressive Jersey – Andre Steensen (DEN) of Saxo Bank SunGard
We topped off the night at the Bicycles for Humanity event at Belly Up. Bicycles for Humanity has recently opened a Aspen-Roaring Fork Chapter to raise money and to collect used bikes to send them to Uganda. The fundraiser with celebrity hosts Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett.