Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on Monday, August 18, 2014

Although Aspen local Tejay van Garderen is the favorite to win this year’s USA Pro Challenge, anyone could ultimately take the podium.

That’s the message top cyclists gave the public during a press conference on Sunday marking the start of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge. The seven-day race takes the peloton of professional cyclists across more than 500 miles and up 40,000 feet of mountainous Colorado terrain.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict who will win the race, because the pro challenge has such variety in its stages and that can favor different athletes on different legs, said Tom Danielson, a 36-year-old American cyclist, who recently won the Tour of Utah. The seven- stage race is made up of circuit races, time trials and point-to-point races over Colorado passes.

Van Garderen won the race last year and is favored to win this year. Still, van Garderen agreed with Danielson.

“Any day could be decisive,” van Garderen said.

Race organizers need to partner with professional cyclists to create race courses, said Jens Voigt, a 42-year-old professional cyclist from Germany. Voigt is the oldest man competing professionally and plans to retire after this season.

Races that cover extreme distances aren’t necessarily fun to watch or to compete in, because they can be too long before the race becomes competitive, he said.

“The commentators don’t know what to say, because nothing happens,” Voigt joked.

“We can only go so hard, for so long,” said Michael Rogers, a pro cyclist from Australia. Rogers added that he doesn’t want professional cycling to become like test cricket, where matches can last up to five days.

The pro challenge does a good job of keeping the stages short, challenging and different each day, Rogers said.

Meanwhile, van Garderen said he’s happy the race is starting in Aspen.

“It’s pretty cool to start in your hometown,” he said.

Van Garderen has been home for about two weeks. Before that, he was traveling after competing in the Tour de France where he took fifth place. Since he’s been home, he’s been training.

Shawn Hunter, CEO of the pro challenge, said Aspen essentially serves as an anchor for the race and will host stages in the future.

“You can pretty much count Aspen as being in every iteration,” he said.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 14, 2014

Shawn Hunter, the CEO and executive director of the USA Pro Challenge, said he plans to keep the bike race in Aspen in future years.

He made that announcement on Wednesday during the Aspen Business Luncheon.

Aspen has hosted at least one stage of the seven-day bike race since the series began four years ago. That will likely continue because of how successful it has been in the past, Hunter said.

He also noted that race organizers don’t plan to move the series outside of the state.

“The race will always be based in Colorado,” Hunter said.

This year, the Pro Challenge runs from Aug. 18-24 and begins with a circuit race around Aspen and Snowmass on Monday. The second stage, on Tuesday, takes cyclists from downtown Aspen to Basalt, via Highway 82 and Two Rivers Road, then through Carbondale, via Catherine Store Road and Highway 133, and over both McClure and Pearl passes to Crested Butte. The race takes the peloton of professional cyclists across more than 500 miles and up 40,000 feet of mountainous Colorado terrain over seven days.

The race will air on NBC Sports, and past races have been shown on the station in more than 180 countries and territories, Hunter said. Meanwhile, the race’s website has attracted 290,000 online viewers who average 109-minute sessions, which is more than most sites, he said, adding that the race advertises the towns and mountains in Colorado.

“What this is is a 30-hour television commercial for Colorado,” Hunter said, adding that the bike race is organized by a private company.

Shawn Hunter, co-chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Challenge, discusses a variety of aspects of the race and impacts it has in Aspen and all of Colorado, during the Aspen Business Luncheon at the Mountain Chalet on Wednesday afternoon.

The event couldn’t happen without the help of towns like Aspen, which provide about 800 rooms to host racers and organizers each year, Hunter said. Collectively, host cities also provide the race with about 4,000 volunteers. The race is a “controlled circus,” Hunter joked.

“When we roll into town we wreak havoc,” he said.

The fact that the towns participate in the race is why it has been so successful, Hunter said.

This year, about 30 communities made bids for 11 spots. In July, Aspen City Council approved spending $215,000 to fund the local portion of the race. The city’s contribution makes up a majority of the event’s $400,000 total cost to the local community for items such as logistics, security, and room and board for racers and event officials.

The accommodations Aspen and Snowmass offer racers are better than most of the places top cyclists stay in when they compete in the Tour de France, Hunter said.

“They don’t get the treatment there they get here,” he said.

After Hunter’s presentation on the race, he answered questions from the audience about the event.

Chris Klug, a professional athlete and founder of the Chris Klug Foundation, asked Hunter why the Pro Challenge is successful when the Coors International Bicycle Classic ended after eight years.

The Coors Classic was a stage race that started in 1980 and had cyclists compete in states including Colorado, Nevada, California, Wyoming and Hawaii. Hunter said the Coors Classic ended in 1988 because it relied on one company to sponsor it — Coors Brewing Co. The Pro Challenge has multiple sponsors.

Sponsors this year include Colorado Tourism, Coca-Cola, United Healthcare insurance company, Lexus, FirstBank and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.