[Christian Vande Velde after winning the USA Pro Challenge. Photo: Elise Thatcher]
A cyclist from a team based in Boulder came out on top when the USA Pro Challenge wrapped up in Denver Sunday. The second running of the week-long bicycle race tested some of the best riders in the world, taking them over mountain passes and through twelve Colorado host cities, which are still trying to gauge the lasting impact of the event. Elise Thatcher followed the race from start to finish.
Here is a transcript of Elise's report:
Reporter Elise Thatcher: It was a nail biter of a race. Cyclists rode harder and faster than last year, with a different leader almost every day. In the end it was a rider for Boulder-based team Garmin-Sharp who took home the winner's yellow jersey.
Announcer: "I can tell you Christian Vande Velde has just won the USA Pro Challenge. Vande Velde!"
Reporter: Christian Vande Velde almost won last year, and he said it was an especially sweet victory this time around.
Christian Vande Velde: To win here, and in front of these crowds, and just the atmosphere of cycling in America right now, it’s great, and I’d be lying if I didn’t think about just stopping today, because it really doesn’t get much better than this.
Reporter: His Garmin-Sharp team made the race more grueling this year, riding fast, and forcing everyone else to keep up. The team is known for helping lead a larger effort to address pro cycling's pervasive doping problem, an issue that landed back in the spotlight in the last days of the race. Late Thursday, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong announced he would no longer fight doping charges from the US Anti-Doping Agency. It’s a decision that could end up costing him all of those Tour titles. Armstrong was instrumental in starting the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado last year, but no one at the race this week wanted to talk about his news. Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters did say this.
Jonathan Vaughters: We’re in a situation now, where the most talented, and the best trained athlete, with the best team, wins the race – clean.
Reporter: Joel Bradley from Denver wasn’t thinking about doping on Sunday. She said the finish gave her goosebumps.
Joel Bradley: Seeing all the most amazing American riders and international, not to mention all the new upcoming American riders.
Reporter: Last year, about a million people like Joel turned out to watch the race over the course of the week. It’s not clear yet how this year compares. Many of the twelve host towns are still tallying their crowd estimates. City officials in Telluride say bad weather kept crowds down. Near Aspen, law enforcement said there were fewer people on Independence Pass, probably because this year’s camping ban made it hard for people to get to the top.
In Aspen, and Crested Butte, on the other hand, officials report crowds were bigger this year. Most towns say the main benefit is media exposure. Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep ran a computer program last week to calculate the advertising value of the press coverage his town received.
Aaron Huckstep: As of Thursday, that marketing equivalent value for just the term "Crested Butte," associated with the race, was over $350,000.
Reporter: The USA Pro Challenge plans to release a crowd estimate in a few weeks. Last year, an independent report commissioned by the race showed the event had an economic impact of over $80 million. A report on this year’s race is due out in the fall.
Organizers say the race will continue next year, and another Boulder cyclist, Taylor Phinney, says it’s already on his calendar.
Taylor Phinney: As long as this race is around, no matter what time it’s happening, I will be here no matter what. Because it’s been just beyond incredible.
[Photo: Elise Thatcher]