USA Pro Cycling Challenge - the view from Monarch Pass

Our experience watching the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was interesting. The timing was perfect - leave Gunnison after 24 Hours in the Sage, camp overnight on the Pass, then watch the race roll through. We arrived at Monarch about mid afternoon on Monday and found a nice pull out to park the turtle in. There was only one other camper in the lot when we arrived, but we had hopes it would get busier. Soon after we got set up and were enjoying some munchies, Larry G - a fellow 24 HitS racer (4th, solo townie class) showed up. We invited him over for food and stories and to watch other fans trickling in to the lot. Our group became four after Jack with Wedgees.Com (a really simple and oddly smart device to keep glasses from slipping down your nose). It was a great night of making new friends and swapping tales while listening to the rain and watching stars - sometimes at the same time!

Tuesday dawned beautiful and sunny. There were more groups of people and a few more campers in the lot then last night, but still seemed pretty quiet. I ran up to the summit to check things out - really quiet. Not much parking space along the road, but people were just starting stir. They didn't even have a KOM banner up yet! So I ran back down to the camper. As the morning progressed, the balance of traffic shifted - the number of cars started dwindling to a trickle, while the number of cyclist was building. And most of the cars were now race related - staff, management, team cars, VIP cars. I decided to head back up to the summit - and was amazed by how quickly the insanity had developed. There was no more room along the road and the KOM banner now stretched across the road - to the confusion of the poor semi driver who had made it before the road closure. It was also cool - a federal highway that is usually filled with cars and trucks quiet except for pedestrians and cyclists.

Then we all settled in to wait for the race. And wait. And wait some more. We knew the race had started down in Salida, but no one had enough service to watch the race online. So we just waited and continued to watch the recreational cyclists steaming up the hill. Then the team buses started roaring by - pedal to the medal, just hauling ass up the pass. The drivers were all waving and honking and the assembled spectators got to practice our cheers and noise making. People were starting to get bored - every car, from the state patrol to the VIPs got a loud cheer as it went by. We could hear the summit from our perch at the 1km to go sign. Then the Training Peaks lead car drove by, announcing what was happening with the race - and we still had minutes to wait! They were a mile in front of the race! Then cop cars, motor bikes, more race cars and finally....

The first riders - a group of three with a fourth rider dangling off the back. They rode by at a decent clip, obviously suffering from the elevation. We listened to the progressive cheering up the mountain and settled in to wait for the rest of group. It was easy to tell where they were from the noise coming from below us. Then the parade of motor bikes and cars surrounding the riders appears. The peloton was big, with HTC and Garmin on the front. I took some photos and snagged a water bottle tossed from the center of the group. It didn't take that long for the riders to pass, but they didn't seem to be struggling at the steady tempo. It actually took longer for the caravan of cars and support vehicles to pass by! Then another long break as the stragglers made their way up the pass. The end of the caravan was clearly marked by the "broom wagon" and a car labeled "end of caravan." In all, it only took about 10 minutes for the riders we had been waiting for all day to pass by

I think the waiting for the race was the best part of the experience - we got to meet some new people and hear some different stories. There was great people watching to be had as the fans assembled on the mountain. And finally, I understand why the fans in France are usually inebriated by the time the race rolls through. It's hot, at elevation and you need to stay hydrated. Add in being social with the new friends and the results are obvious....

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