The opportunity to attack some of the highest climbs in the world is enticing an increasing number of European teams to cross the Atlantic and participate in the U.S. Pro Challenge, taking place through August 23 across the Front Range. This means that fans have the chance to meet some of the biggest names in professional cycling—that is, if they know where to go. Instead of joining the scores of spectators yelling for the riders’ attention at the finish line (the worst spot to be), avoid the crowds and head to where they are (or will be).
“Most riders in the peloton love meeting their fans, but too many people approach at the worst times,” says Will Frischkorn owner of Cured in Boulder and retired 10-year professional rider who has raced in some of the cycling’s biggest events. “At the end of a long day in the saddle, the only thing any rider has on their mind is heading to their hotel room for a snack, shower, and massage. They are cooked after riding for hours—being social is the last thing on their minds.”
In the days before the race:
The best time to meet the athletes and their staffs is in the days leading up to the start of the race. Teams will arrive in the high country a week beforehand to give riders time to acclimate to our altitude. You can find the cyclists hanging around the pools, visiting town, and spending time in their hotels. “Keep your eyes open around any coffee shops. Most professional riders, and especially the Europeans, need their daily caffeine fix,” says Frischkorn. “Buy them a round of espressos, and you could probably get a group photo with them.”
Before start each day:
During the race you can try to meet the riders outside the team bus before each day’s ride, but you will be battling with crowds. A better bet is to go to the hotel where the teams are staying and wait outside the dining hall three hours before the race starts. Riders will be fueling up for the day, and the chance to meet them is quite high. Catch them coming and going.
At any time throughout the race:
The large village housing the team busses and mechanics is another hot spot. Strike up a conversation with the mechanics and race directors. They are a friendly group that will usually hand out water bottles and other schwag. They can also give you tips on when to meet the team before they head out for a ride.
“My best advice is to try to relate to each rider, introduce yourself, talk about this year’s Tour de France, past races you have seen them in, anything that identifies you as a race fan,” says Frischkorn. “We sign hundreds of autographs; it’s nice to actually have a conversation with someone.”
Day 5, Time Trial:
On August 21 in Breckenridge, the Time Trial day offers one of the best times to mingle with these elite athletes. “Don’t approach any rider before the time trial, they are highly focused on their ride and don’t want to be bothered,” say Frischkorn. “But, at the end, it is a highly social affair with riders from different teams hanging out talking. It might be one of the best times to visit with them during the race.”
Day 6, Fort Collins:
If you’re hoping to meet commenters Jens Voigt, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, or even some of the riders, head to the hotel bar each evening following the races. As the week winds down, and the pressure drops, the crowds at the bar grow bigger. If you’re hanging out at the team hotel in Fort Collins (August 22), chances are you will be surrounded by mechanics and staff sharing stories, announcers mingling with race directors (many past riders themselves), and cyclists out of the general classification race just relaxing.
While you are cheering on the riders this year, hopefully you can meet a few of them and welcome them to our state, all while walking away with some autographs and good stories to share with your friends.