DENVER (CBS4) – Dozens of the greatest athletes in the world are coming to Colorado to test their skills in one of the toughest bike races the sport has to offer.
The grueling seven day 683-mile USA Pro Challenge that winds through the Rocky Mountains and beautiful Colorado scenery has become the premier American bike race.
The race kicks off Aug. 19 in Aspen and concludes Aug. 25 in Denver. USA Pro Challenge CEO Shawn Hunter says that the atmosphere of the race is unlike any other.
“You’ve got the ingredients,” said Hunter speaking about the race. “They love the people here in Colorado. The riders have told me the only race in the world with bigger crowds than ours is in France.”
All of the elements have attracted Team Sky, the top ranked cycling team in the world, to compete in the USA Pro Challenge. Team Sky brings along with them Chris Froome, the reigning Tour de France champion. It is the second time in the past three years that the race has enticed a Tour de France champion to participate. The USA Pro Challenge marks the first time that Froome will race on U.S. soil.
The rest of the third edition of the USA Pro Challenge field is made up of the Top 16 teams internationally as well as the top teams domestically. The race is invitation only and designed to be extremely difficult.
“It’s the most challenging race, we think, in the world,” said Hunter describing the competition. “We’ve had three years in a row of the best field to race on American soil ever, and I think this is our best.”
If the competition doesn’t intimidate the riders, then the daunting route they must navigate just might. The elevation of the Rocky Mountains makes the USA Pro Challenge the highest race in the world. The highest point of the Tour de France measures in at an elevation around 6,300 feet at the end of mountain stage. To put it in perspective, the start of the race in Aspen measures in at an elevation of 7,900 feet and only goes higher as riders climb. The Pro Challenge tops off at over 12,000 feet above sea level.
The most difficult stage might be Stage 5 in Vail, an all uphill time trial. The designers of the race modeled the stage after the Coors Classic that dates back to the 1980s. Hunter thinks Vail presents a unique challenge.
“It’s the race of truth, man, against clock so these guys don’t know where they are against their competitors,” said Hunter.
While the conditions of the race challenge the will of the riders, the USA Pro Challenge will benefit the Colorado economy.
“Twenty-three percent of our million-plus spectators come from outside of Colorado,” said Hunter. “So it’s great for the state.”
Thousands of spectators are expected to show up in Fort Collins when the race rolls through on Aug 24. Fort Collins was part of a successful bid to have a portion of the race this year. Race officials are expecting an electric scene as riders race through the streets much like the scene in Boulder last year.
Television will also play a prominent role in promoting Colorado. The race will be broadcast in 180 countries across the globe — something that Hunter believes is a great opportunity for the state.
“It really is an opportunity to showcase Colorado, not just the great skiing that we know about, but what happens during the summer,” said Hunter.
Perhaps the most special aspect of the race is opportunity to see the best riders in the world up close and personal.
“The beauty of it is … it’s rare that you get to see the best athletes in the world for free and we love that. So family and friends can come out and see this race for free,” said Hunter.
The final stage of the race is scheduled for Aug. 25 in Denver. There are more than eight viewing spots set up throughout the city to get a good view of the final portion of the race.
-Written by Josh Christensen for CBSDenver.com