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How to see the USA Pro Challenge and Colorado too

August 1, 2012

If you’re arriving in Durango before the USA Pro Challenge (UPC) starts on August 20th and have one week available to play, here’s a suggested itinerary to enjoy the beauty and wonder that both Colorado and the first half of the race have to offer. Warning: this is an active person’s schedule that attempts to squeeze in many activities.

Leopards in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, 2011 UPC

Near Mesa Verde National Park entrance

For all road closure information, check the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) website. It’s a good idea to check the host city websites below too as they may provide additional information on road closures, parking, and events. This article is current as of August 1, 2012; start and finish times, road closure information, and even the course can change.

Get in before August 20th

Numerous unique places near Durango beg for attention, plus the riders will take up residence in advance of the race. So get to Durango anytime from one to three days before the overall UPC start on August 20th.

Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace

Spend a night or two camping or at one of the park lodges in Mesa Verde National Park. The park protects cliff dwellings once inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans (previously called Anasazi) dating back to the year 600. They range in size from a few rooms up to over a dozen in the Cliff Palace. Prefer to save your vacation days for race viewing? See one or two highlights in the park with a one day trip from Durango which is 35 miles from the park entrance. The ruins are found a good drive past the entrance. Mesa Verde gets hot in August, so prepare for heat.

Durango offers many events the weekend prior to the race start. Scope out the start festival on the Fort Lewis College campus which will operate on Saturday and Sunday before the race start on Monday, August 20th.

The team presentation on the Fort Lewis campus begins Saturday at 5 p.m. and includes dinner for a cost of $200 per ticket. For a more budget-friendly option, find out where on campus the presentation will occur and hang out an hour or so before it starts to catch some riders on their way in. Another good place for advance rider sightings is the Stage 1 route from Durango to Telluride which some of the guys may check-out for training.

Craft beer lovers can sample at least four different labels in Durango, including Durango Brewing Company, Carver Brewing Company, Ska Brewing, and Steamworks Brewing Company.

How to watch Stage 1, Durango to Telluride

Watch the start in Durango then quick-in-a-hurry run to your car and drive over Highway 550 via Silverton and Ouray and Dallas Divide to Telluride. It’s a gorgeous drive (which could be fit in on a pre-race day) but there isn’t much time to tarry; it’s about a three hour trip (without stops) and the race should arrive on the finish line in Telluride at 3:50 p.m. give or take some minutes.

San Juan Mountains

The view of the San Juan Mountains on the way up Dallas Divide is one of the most stunning samples of mountain scenery anywhere.

Alternatively, enjoy checking out the team buses and riders then head over to Telluride before the start at 10 a.m. so you can enjoy a bit of the scenery, a stop at a microbrewery (yes, there is a theme here) and still secure a good spot near the finish line. Microbreweries: Telluride Brewing Company and Smuggler Joe’s.

After the race fun winds down head back over Highway 550 toward Ridgway. Just south of Ridgway is Orvis Hot Springs where four soaking pools in a lawn and flower garden setting, two with cascading fountains, invite quiet relaxation. Orvis is clothing optional. It has beautiful rooms, a camping area, and a community kitchen.

Montrose is a great place to stay on Monday night; it’s a city without the city feel and lots of places of stay. If dinner is on the menu here, consider one of the many great Mexican restaurants. El Jimador on Highway 550 is a ProVéloPassion favorite. The Horsefly Brewing Company offers a selection of microbrews. Monday night is $1 beef taco night at the Horsefly.

How to watch Stage 2, Montrose to Mt. Crested Butte

At this point in the journey viewing alternatives split into a Cottonwood Pass plan and an Aspen plan. The one that works for you rests on where you prefer to spectate during Stage 3 as the names of these alternatives suggest.

Cottonwood Pass plan

The route between Montrose and Crested Butte / Mt. Crested Butte offers so much diverse beauty, from high desert plain to ranchland to high mountains. The short uphill end of Stage 2 will deliver exciting action with the GC hopefuls aiming to gain seconds and the top finishers bent over to catch their breath after the line, making Mt. Crested Butte the place to watch for Stage 2.

Skip the Stage 2 start and head-out on the race route well before the 11:25 a.m. start time. The ride from Montrose to Mt. Crested Butte takes about two hours. On the way along Highway 50 before Gunnison enjoy the beauty of the Blue Mesa Reservoir. Or rise extra early and visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The heat can get intense here so be at the gate at 8 a.m. when the park opens. Leave by 10:30 a.m. to get in front of the race which starts in Montrose at 11:25 a.m. and allow enough time to reach Mt. Crested Butte well before the expected 3:50 p.m. finish.

Aspen plan

An alternative which makes travel to the finish at Beaver Creek easier is to watch Stage 2 from one of the KOMs early on the course. From there Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is accessible. Drive about two hours and 45 minutes back to Montrose and over to Glenwood Springs via Interstate 70. Overnight Tuesday in Glenwood Springs (yes, there is a second theme to this article which involves hot water…Carbondale or Aspen are options for lodging as well). Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company occupies the first floor of the Hotel Denver.

Accommodations for Tuesday night depend on how you choose to see Stage 3.

How to watch Stage 3, Gunnison to Aspen

Cottonwood Pass plan

Independence Pass ascent view from 1K to top

The race included this stage last year also on the third day of the event. While it was exciting to watch the peloton ascend near the top, the real action for the race leaders unfolded on the descent off Independence Pass into Aspen.

So a choice option for Stage 3 is to watch the race from the dirt road section of Cottonwood Pass. It provides a different kind of back-drop for those who enjoy photographing the race and the scenery is stunning.

However, CDOT plans to close the road over Cottonwood Pass to vehicles from 3 p.m. Tuesday until 1 p.m. on Stage 3. Walking and cycling is permitted. This leaves a few options, each of which might lead to different places to stay on Tuesday night.

Option 1. Drive up Cottonwood Pass before it closes on Tuesday and camp overnight [assuming camping permitted]. This means viewing stage 2 by checking out pit row and leaving before the start at 11:25 to get ahead of the race and up the pass as there is basically one road from Montrose to Crested Butte. After the race passes come down the Buena Vista side of the pass as in option 3 below.

Option 2. Stay in Gunnison on Tuesday night. Ride up Cottonwood Pass from the Almont side. It’s about 36 miles to the top of the pass, the last 14 miles on dirt road. The Gunnison County Public Works Department will run shuttles up Cottonwood Pass from the parking area near Taylor Park Trading Post (near the end of the paved road) for a fee of $10. Make reservations before August 20th. After the peloton climbs by descend back to Almont and either drive over the pass to Buena Vista (about 2 hours 45 minutes) or take Highway 50 there.

Option 3. Leave Mt. Crested Butte soon after the finish and complete a two-hour drive to Salida to overnight there or a bit further north in Buena Vista. Ride up Cottonwood Pass from the Buena Vista side, then roll back down to stay at the same place for Wednesday night and watch the conclusion of the race live on TV. Hot springs aficionados have the choice of stopping at Cottonwood Hot Springs (which provides motel rooms and camping) on the descent from the pass or heading just south of Buena Vista to soak at Princeton Hot Springs.

Aspen plan

Watch Stage 3 in downtown Aspen (then you can see the women’s criterium there too) or up on Independence Pass (access from Aspen before Highway 82 closes at 10:30 a.m. or cycle up). Spend Wednesday night in Glenwood Springs again. And yes, Aspen has a microbrewery, the Aspen Brewing Company.

How to watch Stage 4, Aspen to Beaver Creek

Andy Schleck, Tejay van Garderen, & Levi Leipheimer in Avon

The Beaver Creek uphill finish at 2,473 meters (8,114 feet) elevation could separate the GC contenders so it’s a great place to watch Stage 4. The uphill portion is a 4 km (2.5 mile) ascent of 305 meters (1,000 feet), which makes for an average gradient of about 7.5%. The finish line is at the ski resort, Beaver Creek Village, which occupies hillside above the town of Avon.

Cottonwood Pass plan

If you saw Stage 3 from Cottonwood Pass, the drive to the Beaver Creek finish from Buena Vista is 1 hour and 40 minutes via Highway 24 and Interstate 70. To avoid road closures start out before 11 a.m.

Aspen plan

One of the nice aspects of this plan is the easy one hour drive from Glenwood Springs on Interstate 70 to the uphill finish at Beaver Creek for Stage 4 where riders are expected at 3:50 p.m.

Thursday options for lodging include Avon and any of the towns east off of Interstate 70, such as Breckenridge, Frisco, or Dillon.

Back home

That leaves Friday for the journey home and the end of this one-week itinerary.

Host city websites:

Stage 1, Durango (start 10:00 a.m.) to Telluride (finish 3:50 p.m.)

Stage 2, Montrose (start 11:25 a.m.) to Mt. Crested Butte (finish 3:50 p.m.)

Stage 3, Gunnison (start 10:10 a.m.) to Aspen (finish 3:50 p.m.)

Stage 4, Aspen (start 11:35 a.m.) to Beaver Creek (finish 3:50 p.m.)

Stage 5, Breckenridge (start 10:50 a.m.) to Colorado Springs (finish 3:50 p.m.)

Stage 6, Golden (start 11:10 a.m.) to Boulder (finish 3:55 p.m.)

Stage 7/TT, Denver (start 1:00 p.m. finish 3:45 p.m.)

Mountain view on Highway 550 between Durango and Ouray

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