Colorado's Epic Cycle Race
Characterized by high elevations and relentless climbs, the weeklong USA Pro Challenge is too epic for any one city: Ten communities play host to the race’s seven stages, which link Aspen, Crested Butte and Vail with larger hubs such as Colorado Springs and Denver. All test a champion’s mettle. “It’s one of the hardest races I’ve ever done,” says pro rider Tanner Putt of the Bissell Development Cycling team. But legions of fans motivate racers to conquer the challenges.
Over the course of the week, 1 million spectators turn out to watch and cheer. “Riders race here and feel like rock stars,” says Shawn Hunter, the race’s co-chairman and CEO. “The only other race in the world that has this level of excitement and energy is the Tour de France.”
Leave 12,095-foot Independence Pass to the racers. Mere mortals content themselves with the route to the iconic Maroon Bells, which serves up the state’s most celebrated mountain panorama yet demands a relatively modest effort (1,600 vertical feet over 10 miles). As an added bonus, the road is closed to cars from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 20-mile out-and-back ride begins at the roundabout 1 mile west of downtown Aspen. Take the Maroon Creek Road “exit” and pedal uphill past Aspen High School. Rest assured, the hills become gentler as you pass Aspen Highlands ski area. The road climbs gradually, hugging the banks of Maroon Creek as mansions give way to the White River National Forest, where aspen fringed meadows afford glimpses of majestic, 14,026-foot Pyramid Peak. At the road’s end, dismount and walk some 200 yards along the paved path to viewpoints showcasing the Bells’ stunning symmetry mirrored in the blue waters of Maroon Lake.
Wheel Deals: Ute City Cycles rents drool-worthy Orbea and Felt bikes for 100/day, or get a pro tune for your own ride from the repair crew. Refuel: Peach’s Corner Café tops off your fuel tank with the likes of kale salad or a chicken and avocado panini, served on the outdoor patio. Recover Check into Remède Spa (in the St. Regis) for a stint in its steam caves, stone-lined pools stirred by cascading water and treatment rooms offering wraps, facials and massages featuring local skincare products.
Like all routes out of the Vail Valley, the 12-mile Daybreak Ridge loop includes a stout climb (1,800 vertical feet) that humbled cyclists in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge. But from the circuit’s high point you overlook the soaring peaks of the Gore Range. And because the upper section of the ride takes place within gated neighborhoods, traffic is scarce. “You’re more likely to spot deer and bear than cars,” says local Brett Donelson. Start in Avon, 11 miles west of Vail, and crank up Village Road, passing through the gated entrance to Beaver Creek Resort. At 1 mile, turn right onto South Holden Road, left onto Borders Road and left again onto Strawberry Park Road. Ogle the luxury residences lining the road, pass beneath the Elkhorn ski lift and pick up Daybreak Ridge Road to top out at a high point affording those well-earned views down into Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch.
Follow Daybreak Ridge Road as it serpentines down through Bachelor Gulch. Stop to refill a water bottle at the RitzCarlton and then cruise down into Avon via Bachelor Gulch Trail. Venture Sports in Avon rents bikes, organizes group rides and employs the valley’s best bike technicians. Vail Valley riders have long embraced Yellowbelly in West Vail for its all-natural chicken and veggie-laden side dishes Recover. Spa Anjali (at Avon’s Westin Riverfront) draws from healing traditions in the Alps, Himalayas and Rocky Mountains to create three unique “journeys” that go way beyond a standard massage.
Pikes Peak isn’t the Springs’ only scenic landmark— although cyclists do get to admire this 14,114-foot-high summit from portions of the 18-mile Garden of the Gods loop. It gains 1,200 feet of elevation and visits the city’s other “rock star”: The Garden of the Gods, a pocket of blazing red-rock spires and cliffs tucked among the foothills west of downtown. To taste this eye-candy, get an early-morning start (to avoid crowds and traffic heading into the famed Garden) and head northwest out of downtown via W. Bijou to N. Walnut to Mesa Road. Continue north past Garden of the Gods Country Club and then bike south on the bike path, which parallels N. 30th Street and offers motivating panoramas of Pikes Peak and the Kissing Camels rock, which looks exported from Utah’s Arches National Park. Enter the Garden of the Gods to pedal the one-way loop among its sculpted rock pinnacles, separated from the traffic by a wide bike lane.
Exit via a plunge down Ridge Road, then left on W. Pikes Peak Ave., and right on 21st St. to connect to the Midland Trail. This former rail line slopes downhill as it heads back to Colorado Springs. Wheel Deals Criterium Bicycles maintains a big fleet of low-mileage road bikes for riders of every shape and stripe. Refuel The Irish fare at McCabe’s Tavern rewards hard effort with homemade shepherd’s pie, pretzel bread and smoked salmon served on a shady outdoor patio. Recover A Colorado icon, The Broadmoor pampers athletes with therapeutic massage and facials performed in treatment spaces fitted with chandeliers and fireplaces.