I always love an adventure with my two boys. The arrival of the US Pro Challenge in Boulder on August 25th was to present one of those opportunities. I had never watched a Pro cycling event live, in my life. I had watched the Tour de France on TV, but live was always different. They were saying over 100,000 people would come to watch the Tour come through Boulder. There would be two loops through downtown and then the finish up legendary Flagstaff Mountain, a 1200 ft gain over 3.5 miles. It was expected that there would be 30,000 people “on the mountain” to watch the finish. The road was to be closed to cars from 6 AM on race day, so you had to ride or hike to watch the race on Flagstaff Mountain.
The Easy Choice
With the downtown closed off for the race and festival, we knew driving a car would be difficult if not impossible. We live 12 miles from downtown,; we knew the Optibikes were the way to travel. II didn’t have Optibike, we would have chosen to drive to town and then ride regular bikes the last few miles. With the Optibike, the 12 miles to and from downtown would be easy. This is where the Optibike shines, as a car replacement.
A vision of the Future?
The race was due for its first lap through town around 11 am, We left home at 10:15 and pedaled into town. It was eerie as we entered the city streets. There were streams of bicycles heading south with us and not many cars. I began to imagine a world where bicycles outnumbered cars. And then I realized this could be a disadvantage! The normally vacant bike lanes I enjoyed on my daily commute were now clogged with cyclists on regular bikes. They were all riding a few miles in town, we had just finished over 12 miles and were riding with them. There were all kinds of bikes and people, from cruiser bikes to people on carbon fiber race road bikes, in regular clothes with their cleated cycling shoes on (we were in regular shorts and light hiking shoes.
It’s Getting Hotter and Crowds Thicker
The temperature was already in the 90 and getting hotter as we approached the downtown where the race course was. The streets were packed!! People 5 and 6 deep were already lining the course, waiting for the Peloton to arrive. Road cycling is an interesting sport, think Tour de France. You come early to get your place and then wait, often hours, for the bikes to come flying by for a few seconds and your time at the race is over. The Boulder stage was different, as the riders rode into Boulder and then went climbing hills for three hours before making a another lap around downtown and then up the final push to Flagstaff.
The Tension Rises
The film helicopter began sweeping overhead, the giant lens of the camera mounted out front evident from where we stood on the street. (The race was being broadcast live) We knew the race was getting nearer.
We could tell the Peloton was approaching as the lead cars and motorcycles began to come around the turn. There was a continuous line of police, media and officials. . Sirens often wailing as they alerted the crowd to the Pelotons arrival, making sure the course was clear. Cops and camera men on motorcycles, there had to have been 20 vehicles ahead of the Peloton.
The Crowd is Deafening
And then they arrived, the crowd was going crazy, the sound of yelling and bells deafening. The lead rider later remarked that he didn’t normally see the crowd, as he was focused on racing, but in this case in looked behind him to the second place rider and said ”look at this crowd”. We now had three hours until the Peloton returned.
Can You Believe the Number of People?
After the Peloton passed, we went off to lunch and then decided to ride up Flagstaff Mountain and see what was happening. We knew it wouldn’t tax us too much and we could still ride up and down a few times if we decided. As we approached the base of the mountain, the line of cyclists increased. We had to wait for over a minute for bikes, just to turn right into the street (again visions of a future society with more bikes than cars) As we moved closer to the base of Flagstaff, the crowd was filling both lanes of the road. (The street was closed to cars.) Bikes and runners and hikers and strollers, kids on bikes, people in funny costumes clogged the road. An unbelievable sight! We were in ECO Mode, as the crowd was so thick. We had to stop at the check point and put on our arm bands. The city had issued these to insure a maximum of 30,000 people would be on the mountain. You had to agree to no smoking or fires (the fire danger was high and fire was still in the minds of everyone, from the Colorado fires earlier in the year. How can you evacuate 30,000 people from a mountain, if a fire started?)
Hey, That’s an Optibike
As we started the climb, the crowd was even deeper, the side of the road was crowded with people already in place to watch the race. At half power in ECO Mode we carefully wound our way past the other riders. We began to hear people yell from the side of the road ”Hey that’s an Optibike. It has a Motorized Bottom Bracket and the battery is in the fame.” Everyone seemed to notice us as we picked our way past other riders. Half way to the summit we decided to stop and take it all in. The road was lined with people everywhere.
Dancing in the Streets
We decided to ride up the road further and after a few more turns, the road was blocked by a huge party taking place in the road. Music blasting and people dancing. We moving slowly through the 100 foot crowd as they parted for the perpetual line of bikes climbing the mountain. We went back to the half way point and waited.
The Helicopter Comes Again
In half an hour the helicopter began to circle and we knew the Peloton was close. Finally the lead cards and motorcycles began to come around the turn. The crowd parted to make way (they wee filling street). Finally the lead break come around the turn, the Peloton had broken way up since the first loop of circling Boulder, three hours before, the endless climbing had decimated the field. The riders came around the turn, maybe 8-10 miles per hour. Their faces blank, sweat pouring from every pore of their body. The crowd parted and came back as each group rode solemnly past.
Our Crowded Descent Interrupted
And then the crowd all filled the road and began to descend, Walkers and bikes slowly moving down the road. After about 20 minutes a police car rounded the turn, siren wailing; the final pack was arriving. The crowd parted, just enough room and the last few riders passed us. The strain on their faces was deep and vacant. The last 2 miles were long for the final group. We slowly descend in the mass of humanity and went off to the festival at the closed off downtown around the historic Pearl Street Mall. Again crowds so deep you could barely walk.
It was getting late and we cycled off home for our return 12 mile ride. What a day! The largest crowd ever to watch a cycling event in America! Some Team people said it was the largest crowd they had ever seen in the world.
Boulder showed it’s worth as a big cycling town. I was impressed with the energy and excitement that the Peloton created, and now understood why all those people line the course for hours in the Tour de Frame, for a short view of the riders.