Friday, August 26, 2011

USA Pro Cycling Challenge: Vail Time Trial

My friend Lara emailed a few weeks ago asking if I wanted to drive up to Vail to watch the time trial for the brand new Colorado bike race. I responded with an enthusiastic yes. What a terrific opportunity to observe the best cyclists in the world. I figured I could learn something useful, have fun, and see all of the latest gear. Plus, this legendary 10 mile time trial is entirely uphill and gains almost 2000 feet to the top of Vail pass. The altitude at the top is 10,000 feet. It was sure to be a suffer-fest for the flat-landers.
Vail is so quaint!
 The day did not disappoint. The venue was a spectacle. The day was postcard perfect, with bright blue sky and imposing mountains in the background. There were thousands of people milling about. An expo was set up touting the wares of the various sponsors. There was so much to see, it was almost overwhelming.
The expo area 



Can you believe this t-shirt cost $40?
A souvenir cow bell was handed out. What a coup! I love obnoxious toys.
I rang the cow bell all day! It never got old.

Baby Paige liked the cowbell too!
We navigated our way through the crowd, aimlessly looking for the start house. Nobody was able to give us concrete directions until we met Bob the Avon policeman. We asked him if he was hot in his uniform, because we were roasting in our shorts and t-shirts. He said he was extremely hot, especially since he was wearing a bullet proof vest. What? Should we have been concerned about safety issues?

Bob knew what was up!


 We found our way to the start house about 10 minutes before the first rider was set to go off. Somehow, we were able to weave our way through the crowd and get to the very front.
The first rider nervously awaited his start
 We saw the famous Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett.
Paul Sherwin was a celebrity! People wanted pictures and autographs.

Phil and Paul did their race commentary near the start
The start of the race was incredibly exciting. The national anthem was sung and then the crowd went wild banging on the barriers and ringing their cowbells and counting down the seconds. This reception was given to every rider in the start house. Even though the riders kept a straight face, deep down I know they must have loved the noise. The first mile of the course was teeming with people. The energy was palpable. It was impossible not to get caught up in the momentum.


After the first 10 riders were off, we decided to make our way up the course. I tried to get some action shots, but it was a tough task. The riders flew by and were gone in a flash.

I did manage to catch a photo of this guy coming around the corner
It was interesting to look at the different bike set ups and bike positions. Most riders opted for a TT bike with a disc wheel. Some, however used a road bike with clip on aero bars and other chose a road bike without aero bars. While everyone did use some type of aero wheel, there was a wide variety in the wheel choice from somewhat aero to very aero. I mostly saw guys wearing aero helmets, but there were a few that used a traditional helmet.The bike positions were also very disparate. Some of the guys had atrocious positions and were moving all over the saddle. Other were clearly much more comfortable on a TT bike and looked smooth.

It was obvious who the contenders were.The top guys had a team car following them and the really top guys had a motorcycle with a cameraman hanging off the back as well. I am not sure what the poor saps without a team car were supposed to do if they flatted. Walk to the top of Vail pass with their bike slung over their shoulder? What a bummer that would be.

About 2 miles from the start house was the team staging area. This is where the team RV's were and where the riders did their warm up.
The BMC staging area
Look! It's George!


I was most impressed with the effort these guys put out on the day. After the previous stage with the two huge mountain passes, the legs of these riders were surely beat up. But, to their credit, they put it all out there. Their faces showed the pain and how much winning the stage or holding onto the yellow jersey or inner pride meant. It was inspiring.


It is hard to believe that bike racing at this level has been absent from Colorado for so many years. I hope this is the start of new tradition for bike racing in our great state.

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