Live from Durango, it’s the USA Pro Challenge!

It was live at the improv on Saturday as the Fort Lewis College Community Concert Hall hosted a press conference for the USA Pro Challenge

DURANGO, Colorado (VN) — The Fort Lewis College Community Concert Hall stage hosted a bit of comedy improv Saturday afternoon when eight top riders participating in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge attended a press conference in the race’s start town of Durango, Colorado.

Among those in attendance were 2011 USAPC winner and runner-up, Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde, as well as Fort Lewis College graduate Tom Danielson, Vincenzo Nibali, Jens Voigt and BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans, Tejay van Garderen and Taylor Phinney.

Perhaps it was the abundance of Americans on stage, or the relaxed tone of a post-Tour, post-Olympics stage race, or the ambience of a sleepy college town — or the combination of all three — but the press conference started off with laughs, and only got wilder as it went on.

The antics started when Danielson disclosed that Vande Velde, his Garmin-Sharp teammate, ribs him for calling Durango his hometown — in addition to Danielson’s native East Lyme, Connecticut, his adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado, and his preferred getaway of Malibu, California.

“Christian teases me about calling so many places my hometown, but my heart is here, in Durango,” Danielson said.

Later, when asked about the depth of the Garmin squad, Vande Velde joked, “We’ve got Tommy D going coast to coast with his hometowns. It doesn’t get much deeper than that.”

Vande Velde then added, “We’ve got Peter Stetina here, who is looking good — and actually is from Boulder, Colorado.”

Leipheimer and van Garderen also traded barbs laced with quotes from the 1994 Jim Carrey film “Dumb and Dumber,” which was set in Aspen, site of a stage finish last year and the finishing town of stage 3 and start town of stage 4 next Thursday.

Recalling the 2011 race, when van Garderen took the race lead from Leipheimer after he suffered on the cold, wet descent into Aspen, van Garderen subtly planted a quote from the film into his answer, saying, “I was motivated last year. I got into jersey, but it got a little nippy going down the pass. Then Levi did an incredible time trial the next day. It was emotional to lose the jersey. I’m hoping this year I can pull it together in the final time trial and take the jersey home.”

(In “Dumb and Dumber,” Carrey’s character, Lloyd Christmas, arrives in Aspen after a cold ride on a scooter with frozen boogers stuck to his face, saying to his companion Harry Dunne, “Got a little nippy going through the pass, huh, Harry?”)

On his next opportunity Leipheimer also slipped a quote into his answer. “Last year was fantastic, you could feel that Colorado had been itching for a race of this caliber for over 20 years, since the last Coors Classic,” he said. “You could feel all that enthusiasm. It was amazing to be part of it. Last year the jersey changed hands several times. I almost missed that ‘Dumb Dumber’ quote from Tejay… this year, I intend on bringing an extra pair of gloves.”

(In “Dumb and Dumber”, Carrey’s character doubles up on gloves during the chilly scooter ride into Aspen, offering a pair to the frozen-handed Dunne only after his hands had grown sweaty, prompting Dunne to shout, “ You had these gloves all this time, and you never told me?” Christmas’ reply is one of the more famous lines from the film: “Duh. Yeah, we’re in the Rockies!”)

Always a crowd favorite, Voigt delivered several one-liners as well.

Describing RadioShack-Nissan’s squad, Voigt listed through various roles on the team. “We bring a good team. We have Chris Horner, and John Bennett, a young Kiwi who looks promising, as well as Jakob Fuglsang… and I guess that means me to do the work. Somebody has to do that.”

Asked about an impending retirement, Voigt, 40, answered, “Retirement? I’m sorry, that word is not in my vocabulary.”

True to its improv tone, the press conference even included audience interaction, as Phinney’s mother, Connie Carpenter, chimed in to correct one of his answers.

Phinney, who was born and raised in Boulder, spoke of his awe at the San Juan Mountains during the drive from Boulder to Durango, saying, “I’m not sure I’ve been to Durango before,” adding, in a southern accent, “We don’t usually come this far south. Just kidding. We totally do.”

Carpenter corrected him from the crowd, letting him know that he had, in fact, been to Durango before — presumably on a family vacation.

“Okay, my mom says I’ve been here before,” Phinney joked. “That’s why I brought her. She’s my fact checker.”

The press conference ended as it began, with another joke, this time from USAPC CEO Shawn Hunter, who had been asked about what it meant to have the race start in Durango, where his father, Gary, was recently appointed athletic director at Fort Lewis College, a perennial collegiate cycling powerhouse.

“(Race director Jim Birrell) and I are both in pretty good form,” Hunter said. “Neither of us are injured. We will be in the car for 700 miles, so I’m feeling pretty good that we’ll be there first every day.”

The more serious side of racing commences Monday morning, 10 a.m. MDT, for stage 1, from Durango to Telluride.