For the nights leading up to the USA Pro Challenge, we stayed at a resort hotel in Snowmass, just up the hill from Aspen, because apparently Aspen wasn’t high enough. The team flew in on Saturday for the presentations that night and a ride with Fly Cyclery on Sunday, the Pinarello dealer in Aspen.
The hotel was lovely, except for the energy drink-sponsored party by the pool every day from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. I counted six people by the pool (maybe two enjoyed the music, and the rest were shouting over the DJ), and I estimate at least 40 pro cyclists were in their beds in the rooms around the pool, squeezing their heads between two pillows to drown it out. I would have called the front desk to complain, but I didn’t want to feel like a grumpy old man (GET OFF MY LAWN).
Stage 1 was a circuit race of three laps around Aspen, only 68 miles. Any time you say “only x miles” it makes it sound easy, but the tricky part is that when the stage is shorter, guys just go faster, so a short stage isn’t much of a relief. The field blew to smithereens on the last lap, with Chris Baldwin and Carter Jones attacking for stage results for Bissell. It’s been fun to watch the team progress at these races, from shooting for early breaks to winning to KOM jerseys, and now we might just win a stage if the big boys screw up one day.
The second stage was just rude: do a few parade laps around Aspen, enjoy the crowds, and then BAM, climb up to 2093840931801928 feet, up Independence Pass. They didn’t go too crazy at the front, thankfully, and we went over the top in a big group.
Halfway through the stage, someone was chasing the early break and I had a chat with Ken Hanson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies). He told me about how a near-death experience in stage 1, and then dodging a giant falling boulder on the way up Independence.
“I’m going to die this week at this rate,” he said.
I’m not superstitious, but when I heard he crashed and pulled out of the race, I was concerned. Ken’s okay, though. Stitches in the knee. He got off light — compared to death, anyway.
My legs still haven’t been what I’d hoped, but they’re a notch better than Utah, and I was able to sneak into a late breakaway to take the pressure off Carter and Chris heading to the finish. As always, the breakaway was a mess, with half the guys sitting on, half attacking, half arguing, and half forgetting all the math they ever learned, because we were 10,000 feet high.
The break blew apart over Hoosier Pass and I went back to the field, cresting the second KOM just behind the front group. I was ready for an easy cruise to the finish when I heard the voice of Omer Kem, our sport director, from the car.
“Phil! You’ve got to catch back on the descent to get these bottles to Chris and Carter.”
I took the bottles, put on my big boy pants, and bombed hairpins for the next 10 kilometers, working my way back into the group. I rode up to Carter and Chris and held out the bottles.
“No, thanks,” said Chris.
“Nah, I’m cool,” said Carter.
Awesome. Good thing I like ripping descents.
I crested the final KOM with a couple other guys who’d been chasing in the group or came out of the break. The crowds were unbelievable, with lots of costumes. It was just for a kilometer or two, but it could have been Alpe D’Huez, riding into a crowd, having the masses part for you, occasionally spilling their beer. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more of it this week.