The Pueblo Classic bicycle race this weekend is expected to draw some 600 collegiate and pro competitors. The long-distance Steel City Road Race is on Saturday just outside of town. On Sunday, competitors will zoom around the historic Union Avenue district during the Pueblo Chilly Criterium.
Local race organizer and emcee Steve Liebel said they can hit speeds above 35 miles per hour.
“You can feel the wind coming off of them. It's NASCAR on bicycles. They're drafting off of each other, inches away from each other in this huge group,” he said. “It's just exhilarating to watch them really turn it over.”
Liebel said he hopes the experience of seeing a high level race like this will get more Southern Coloradans interested in the sport.
Puebloan and long-time racer Carla Flores said that’s exactly what got her interested in competing, when she first saw a race in Boulder.
“Just listening to those bikes go by and people shifting their gears and the crowd....I had to try it,” she said. “Knowing that you're out there pouring your heart out in a bike race...it is such a great feeling.”
Flores isn’t racing this year. The four-time national champion is also a nurse, so she’s volunteering on the medical support team. But Flores said she looks forward to competing in Pueblo in the future.
Cycling For Speed And Fun
To get more people involved, Pueblo’s mayor and chief of police will lead a free community ride open to all on the criterium course at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The road racers will ride 34, 48, or 68 miles, while the spectator-friendly criterium involves multiple laps around a course seven-tenths of a mile long. The course runs across the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk and past restaurants and shops. Racers can compete in either or both events.
Top Collegiate Cyclists Competing
The weekend is also the conference championships for a dozen collegiate teams from across Colorado.
"The majority of the races in Colorado are promoted and supported by commercial entities," said race director Jim Castagneri. "But this one is being promoted primarily by the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference. It's a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports collegiate cycling.”
Event organizers also include the City of Pueblo and the Pueblo and Latino Chambers of Commerce.
Castagneri said resources for collegiate riders can be limited. “So this is kind of an effort to help those colleges and universities in-state to have a venue where they don't have to do anything except show up and compete,” he said.
Purses totaling $1,000 each day will be paid out to the top finishers in both the pro men’s and women categories.
Last year’s race, which was to be the first in Pueblo, was cancelled due to the pandemic. The non-bicycle activities originally planned were scaled back for this year and racers will need to follow COVID-19 safety protocols specified in their registration materials.
The criterium race on Sunday will close portions of Union, Grand and Victoria Avenues and D and C Streets to traffic starting at 6 a.m. These roads are expected to reopen by 7p.m.
Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up online or in person on the day of the race. No experience is necessary and the organizers will provide training.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated to clarify Steve Liebel's role.