From start to finish

City frames summer season with two-wheeled adventures

It comes in stages: The US Pro Cycling Challenge route

by Tracy Chamberlin

This year the summer season in Durango is book-ended by one of its most popular pastimes – biking.

It starts with the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this weekend and finishes with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August. The bicycle classic is old hat for the city, which celebrates its 41st running of the famous race against the train, but the cycling challenge is something entirely new.
“I’ve never experienced anything of this magnitude,” said Sherri Dugdale, assistant to the city manager and co-chair of the local organizing committee.

Durango learned at the end of last year it had secured the starting gate as host of Stage 1 in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Aug. 20. The course takes riders hundreds of miles across the Rocky Mountains, through 12 host cities, over nine mountain passes and across the finish line in Denver on Aug. 26. But it all begins on 8th and Main.

Riders start off with three laps around downtown and then head up to Fort Lewis College. They’ll follow Rim Drive around to Florida Road before heading back downtown for one last trip along Main Avenue.

The course follows Highway 550 toward Lake Nighthorse, eventually connecting back to Highway 160 for the climb to Hesperus. Athletes then ride through Mancos, Dolores and Rico en route to Lizard Head Pass at 10,222 feet. The final decent takes them into Telluride and the finish line for Stage 1.

Stage 2 begins in Montrose, about 65 miles north of Telluride, and ends in Crested Butte. Stage 3 starts from Gunnison and covers 130 miles to Aspen, the one city  that hosts the finish and then a start the following morning. Stage 4 ends in Beaver Creek after 97 miles, and Stage 5 is a 117-mile trek from Breckenridge to Colorado Springs.

Stage 6 begins in Golden and ends on the streets of Boulder; and, the final and 7th stage winds through downtown Denver, where the winner can enjoy the top podium spot in the mile-high city after riding 683 miles.

American Levi Leipheimer, riding with Team RadioShack, became the event’s first champion with a victory in 2011 and said the race “raised the bar for American cycling.” The 2011 Tour de France winner, Aussie Cadel Evans, finished seventh overall in the inaugural event and called it “incredibly successful.”

Durango applied to be a part of that first race, but did get the nod. Race organizers had to consider other cities that applied, and how they would work together to create a challenging course for racers and an exciting one for spectators.

This year is a different story, and it could turn out to be the largest event the city has ever seen.

The 2011 race enjoyed 1 million spectators, was broadcast in 161 countries, and the state recorded an $80 million economic windfall. This year’s race is expected to be viewed in more than 200 countries worldwide, and the economic impact could also increase.

The exposure an event like this generates is hard to come by, according to Dugdale. If it is considered a success, it could portray Durango as a potential host for future races, other events and a desirable location for visitors watching around the globe.

“Is Durango now on their bucket list?” she asked.

Last year, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic had 3,500 participants across the five events, bringing thousands of visitors to Durango. But the pro race is expected to bring in even more. The city of Durango, which is home to less than 17,000 residents, is expecting 20,000 to 25,000 visitors in the weeks surrounding the race.

Although the price tag appears to be around $250,000, the city considers this a long-term investment, according to Dugdale.
Fort Lewis College could also benefit from the international coverage as host of the Cycling Village, inspired by the Athlete’s Villages at Olympic Games. The college plans to house the riders and their support staff on campus, host several events, and be a part of the course.

The turnover from Cycling Village to college campus will be no easy task. The fall semester is scheduled to start Mon., Aug. 27, just one week after race day.

NBC Sports is scheduled to be on the scene with a helicopter, capturing Stage 1 as it winds through downtown and up the hill to Rim Drive. Fort Lewis would be the backdrop.

“Can you imagine the helicopter shots of the campus?” Dugdale said.

Dugdale added that without Fort Lewis as a partner, the city would not be able to host this event; there simply aren’t enough rooms available to house all the athletes, media personnel and visitors. This is also the reason the City Council recently eased restrictions on vacation rentals for the weeks surrounding the event.

Although, homeowners must register their rental properties with the City Finance Department, fees and permits are suspended from Aug. 10-22.

Food vendors will be allowed at certain parks on race day, some sign and banner restrictions have been eased, and parking meter fees are suspended on race day. The city is also making E. 2nd Ave. a “no parking” zone so that racers, their teams and equipment can set up in the area.

And it’s not just about the regulations. It’s about the people. For the city to host such a large event, they will need hundreds of volunteers.
Dugdale said 40 to 50 co-chairs are currently serving on local organizing committees in order to prepare for the race. She shares a chairing position with Mary Monroe, executive director of Trails 2000.

The city still has plenty of work to do before August, and Dugdale said they are still looking for sponsors and volunteers.  Although the to-do list is long, the goal is simple: make this a successful event.

To volunteer for or help sponsor the event, visit For more information about the cycling challenge