Amateur cyclists get a ‘pro’ experience

Riders wait for the start of the USA Pro Challenge Experience, a ride hosted by Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort that begins at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge official start line on Main Avenue and Eighth Street in Durango on Sunday morning. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Riders wait for the start of the USA Pro Challenge Experience, a ride hosted by Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort that begins at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge official start line on Main Avenue and Eighth Street in Durango on Sunday morning.

Amateur bicyclists had a chance to feel the thrill of the pack when they participated in Sunday’s USA Pro Challenge Experience. More than 250 riders registered for the ride that started at 7 a.m. at Eighth Street and Main Avenue.

The purpose of the ”Experience” was to give non-pros a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to feel what it’s like to be one of the premier cyclists in all the world,” according to the Pro Challenge website. Cyclists rode from downtown to Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort, which includes portions of Stage 1 of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge that started this morning.

Cyclists in this year’s Experience had a choice of two routes. The longer ride, just shy of 73 miles, started downtown. Cyclists headed to Wildcat Canyon, returned to downtown, and then rode up to Durango Mountain Resort via East Animas Road (County Road 250) and Shalona Hill. After a break at Durango Mountain Resort, they headed back down to Fort Lewis College via U.S. Highway 550.

At the college they were honored with a “Finish Festival,” according to Pro Challenge materials.

For those riders less inclined to the 75-mile trek, the Experience offered a 45-mile route with the resort as the finish line. These riders also were honored with a Finish Festival, hosted by the resort.

Firing the starter’s pistol was George Hincapie, who has been a winning representative of the U.S. cycling teams. He’s won stages of the Tour de France eight times, with the 2012 Tour de France his 17th time in the race overall.

Hincapie also won a stage of the 2011 Pro Challenge, been a U.S. National Champion three times and won numerous other races or race stages. Liz Brown, social-media manager for the Pro Challenge, said this year’s Pro Challenge will be Hincapie’s last professional race, but then again, Lance Armstrong retired and came back.

In other race developments, a hotline has been established to respond to questions about road closures in town and along the race route. Most of the roads closed by the race will be downtown and around Fort Lewis College.

But a hotline spokeswoman said roads are likely to reopen today by about noon. Anyone interested in additional information can call 375-4646 until 5 p.m. today.

In addition, local authorities and race officials set up the Southwest Incident Command Team to help manage all local emergency and non-emergency traffic and related issues arising from the Pro Challenge, according to a news release from the Incident Command Team. The most important request from the team is that area residents remain patient with the various road closures and other impacts of the event.

On Sunday morning, amateur riders make their way up a County Road 211 hill near Nighthorse Reservoir during the Pro Challenge Experience, a ride that allowed cyclists to get a glimpse of what the pros will face. Part of the course included sections from the pros’ route today for Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

On Sunday morning, amateur riders make their way up a County Road 211 hill near Nighthorse Reservoir during the Pro Challenge Experience, a ride that allowed cyclists to get a glimpse of what the pros will face. Part of the course included sections from the pros’ route today for Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.