VAIL, Colo. - After an absence of 23 years, major bicycling will return to Colorado next August. The Quiznos Pro Challenge will draw 120 professional bicycle racers, including many from the Tour de France, for a 600-mile multi-stage race.
And this excites the bicycling mayors of Aspen and Vail, towns that are stops along the race. Salida, Crested Butte, Avon, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge are also on the race course.
Lance Armstrong, who now has a second home in Aspen, lent support to the race, which will be the fourth largest in the world.
"This is a great place to ride bicycles, and it's been absent from the high-end pro cycling agenda since the Coors Classic ended in the 1980s," said Steve Wood, a former member of the U.S. national cycling team who now lives in the Vail area.
The race will pose a special challenge to the bike racers, because of the thinner air. The lowest elevation will be at Denver, but otherwise, the lowest elevation will be at Steamboat Springs, elevation 6,728.
European races often have much steeper climbs, but from lower elevations, says Wood.
"Some of the Alps races top out at 7,000 to 8,000 feet - but they start near sea level," says Wood, who is now launching a business called High Road Velo Tours, which will cater to recreational bicycle racers.
The most grueling stage may well be between Gunnison and Aspen. In that one-day stage, competitors will twice cross the Continental Divide, using Cottonwood and Independence passes, both of them surpassing 12,000 feet.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, an avid bicycle rider who has crossed both passes, says that stage could well determine the outcome of the Quiznos Pro Challenge.
After Aspen, racers will compete in Vail, which at one time hosted time trials in the Red Zinger Classic and then the Coors Classic, which ended in 1988.
"It was a huge event," remembers Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland. "It brought thousands of people to Vail. The streets were jammed with local and international guests," he said.
Dimensions of the race are suggested by the lodging needs. To participate, Aspen had to agree to donate 400 lodging rooms for free or discounted rates for use by racers, support staff, race officials and media.
How will the lodges sort this out? Warren King, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel, said some sort of revenue-sharing plan is needed, to see that hotels providing free rooms are compensated.
Race organizers tell the Vail Daily that they expect the race will attract avocational riders, who want to test themselves on the roads where the pros have been riding.