Ready or not, here they come.
The cyclists of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and their support crews are heading to Durango. And they’re bringing cycling fans with them.
With all the anticipation and curiosity of a Mars landing, race officials and team riders will settle into Durango this week in advance of the opening stage of the second annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge, set to take off Aug. 20 from Main Avenue.
Before the race-day festivities, “The Grand Depart” opening stage/party in Durango will feature myriad local events this week, including: a bike parade costume party, mountain bike races, trail runs, road rides, fireworks, a grand benefit gala, street festivals and a cycling expo.
“It’s a weeklong celebration complete with art exhibits, autograph signings at local bike shops, citizen bike tours ... and more,” said Mary Monroe, co-chairwoman of Durango’s local organizing committee for the race.
“The week leading up to race day ... is a celebration for locals and visitors to be part of the festivities,” said Monroe, also director of Trails 2000.
Cyclists will depart Durango on Highway 160, then turn onto Highway 184 at Mancos before zipping through Dolores on their way to the finish in Telluride. There will be rolling closures on the state highways once the riders leave downtown Durango.
Cyclists will check into their dormitory rooms at Fort Lewis College this week. Teams will be setting up their mobile bike shops on campus to enable the riders to take training rides in the Durango area.
A bike parade (what else?) is the formal kickoff to Durango’s festivities Thursday evening. The Tutu to Brew parade will take riders from Buckley Park to Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters in Bodo Park.
Friday’s sculpture dedication at the Florida Road roundabout will warm up the community for the Start Festival cycling expo at FLC on Saturday and Sunday.
The Start Festival, starting at 11 a.m. each day, will feature live music, food booths, cycling goods and products, a Jumbotron screen showing racer interviews and highlights of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge and a kids’ zone with an obstacle course for the smallest cyclists.
The Let’s Get It Started gala, tickets required, will include the formal introduction of the teams and cyclists at FLC at 5 p.m. Saturday.
More warm-up activities, including the Durango Trail Festival with mountain bike races in Twin Buttes, will fill the Saturday calendar.
Also Saturday, the Pro Challenge Experience offers citizen cyclists a chance to ride on some of the roads in the opening stage of the race. Registration is available at www.prochallenge.com/register.
Television crews also will arrive in Durango this week to set up for NBC Sports and NBC network coverage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
There will be a record 29 hours of TV coverage of the race this year on the NBC family of networks, including a prerace preview show that will be taped in Durango. It’s scheduled to air at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 19.
The announcing crew will include in-race reporter Bob Roll, of Durango, a former international pro cyclist and a longtime cycling commentator. He’ll be joined by the legendary voices of cycling – Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.
Complete television coverage information will appear in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge supplement to the Cortez Journal, scheduled for publication Thursday.
“Durango will have exposure on television every day with the start here,” said Dave Hagen, co-chairman of the Durango technical committee and head of FLC’s cycling program.
He said the dramatic vistas of Durango from Rim Drive and FLC should make for spectacular visuals on television.
“And the crowds watching the climb up the Front Hill (to FLC) should be spectacular,” Hagen said, anticipating Durango’s usual spirited turnout for cycling events.
Race day will be Monday, Aug. 20.
With event officials and city officials expecting large race-day crowds for the start (10 a.m. Monday), free parking shuttles will be in place in Durango. There will be no parking available in downtown Durango.
The free shuttles will run to the downtown Transit Center from four locations — the Durango Mall, Durango High School/La Plata County Fairgrounds, Twin Buttes and FLC.
The free shuttles to and from the parking lots will run continuously on race day, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The shuttles, which will include school and resort buses, will feature a host or hostess to answer questions, direct visitors to downtown locations and provide historical tidbits.
In addition, there will be a special bicycle parking area with valets in the downtown core. Bikes will be parked in a secure area while spectators check out the racing.
The race itself will feature a course that tours around downtown Durango three times – twice in parade laps and once racing for money and points.
From the mass start at Eighth and Main, the cyclists will ride south on Main to Fifth Street, then turn up Fifth Street by the train station to East Third Avenue.
The cyclists will ride Third Avenue north all the way to 12th Street where they will turn down to Main Avenue to complete the parade loop.
After two full loops downtown, defending champion Levi Leipheimer and the cyclists will ride down Main, turn up Fifth to Third and then turn north on College Drive.
They will race up College Drive to Eighth Avenue, where they will turn left. That will take the peloton of the world’s top cyclists up the famed Front Hill to FLC.
Once on campus, the cyclists will pedal around Rim Drive and around Hillcrest Golf Club to Goeglein Gulch Road.
They’ll turn north and follow North College Drive down the hill to Florida Road. From Florida Road, it’s past the new bicycle sculpture and on to Third Avenue for a left turn.
Down Third Avenue, they’ll take a right on 12th Street at Buckley Park for one block, then left on Main Avenue for the first Sprint Line payoff.
The cyclists will exit Main this time by turning right on College Drive and then left on Camino del Rio where they will pedal to County Road 210, the road to Nighthorse Reservoir.
After the climb past the reservoir, the cyclists will go right on Wildcat Canyon Road back down the hill to U.S. Highway 160.
Then it’s a left turn and up the hill to Hesperus, on to Mancos, north to Dolores, on up Lizard Head Pass and down to the finish of Stage 1 in downtown Telluride.
That’s 125 miles to kick off the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge
The entire downtown complex will be closed for the race start.
The race field for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will feature 16 professional cycling teams and a stellar individual lineup that includes the top five finishers from last year and 10 of the top 12 finishers.
The field will include Durango favorite and FLC graduate Tom Danielson of the Boulder-based Garmin Sharp Barracuda team. He finished fourth in the inaugural USA Pro Challenge last year.
Leipheimer, runner-up Christian Vandevelde of Garmin and third-place Tejay van Garderen of BMC all return.
“I’m super motivated this year. I was so angry with the Tour de France and how it went down,” Danielson said of back-to-back crashes and back-to-back separated shoulders in France.
“So when I got back to Colorado, I just started working hard,” Danielson said, targeting the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. He’s riding the Tour of Utah this week as preparation for the Colorado stage race.
He said the 2012 Colorado race is doubly special because of the start in Durango and the climb up Flagstaff Mountain near his current home in Boulder.
“There’s really nothing like Durango. People work so well together there,” Danielson said. “I can’t wait ... to show Durango to the pro peloton. And we’ll be able to show Durango to the world.”