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The world is watching: Race Day 1

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

A crowd gathers on Main Ave. during opening ceremonies before the USA Pro Cycling Challenge official start.

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

So you want to check out today’s big race?

Here’s a rundown on how to make the most of race day in Durango, the start of the seven-day USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

First, and foremost, the race starts at 10 a.m. at Main Avenue and Eighth Street with two “parade laps” through downtown. After that, racers will hammer up the Front Hill to Fort Lewis College, ride along the scenic Rim Drive, fly down North College Drive and sprint on Florida Road back to the downtown.

One hundred twenty-six world-class racers will ride through town for about 26 minutes before departing on County Road 210 – the road that leads to Lake Nighthorse, said City Manager Ron Le-Blanc.

He encourages residents to show up, make a lot of noise and, if possible, wear a costume.

“Do Durango proud,” he said. “You can recycle all your Snowdown costumes.”

Popular viewing spots will include:

Buckley Park, 1250 Main Ave., where an all-day festival is planned with food, music and exhibits. A Jumbotron will broadcast the race.

Main Avenue and 12th Street, where bleachers will be set up for a Fort Lewis College cycling fundraisers at Guido’s Favorite Foods..

The start line at Main Avenue and Eighth Street, where dignitaries and luminaries such as Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Olympians will speak.

Along the Front Hill, the first heart-pounding climb of the 683-mile race.

Along Rim Drive, where spectators can see two passes, once up close and again about 100 feet below on Florida Road.

Much of downtown will be closed to vehicular traffic, making parking tricky, if not impossible.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to walk, ride a bicycle, or park and ride a free shuttle.

Free parking will be available at four locations: Durango Mall, Durango High School/La Plata County Fairgrounds, Twin Buttes and Fort Lewis College. A free shuttle will operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and take spectators from those four lots to the downtown Transit Center.

“We are hoping you will take transit and ride your bike; stay out of the car,” LeBlanc said.

Events get started early with a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. in Buckley Park and opening ceremonies at 8 a.m. on Main Avenue.

Highlights from the first day, including live coverage of the finish, will be shown starting at 2 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. A helicopter will be overhead filming the start and motorcycles will closely track the cyclists.

NBC and NBC Sports Network have agreed to show 29 cumulative hours of televised coverage during the seven-day race. Coverage in one form or another will reach more than 200 countries, LeBlanc said.

“The town has never looked so good,” he said. “We have put down hundreds of gallons of paint, we’ve trimmed trees, we’ve fixed streets, we’ve hung banners.”

The Pro Cycling Challenge is the biggest event Durango has ever hosted, LeBlanc said.

“There’s nothing comparable to what this is,” he said.

The city budgeted about $560,000 for the event. It will recoup much of those expenses from sponsors, fundraisers, special events and the race itself.

Today was going to be the first day of school for Durango School District 9-R students, but the start was postponed a day to accommodate the race.

LeBlanc encouraged as many residents as possible to attend today’s event.

“It’s a way to show your appreciation and support for the city by going out and supporting the race,” he said.

The race course itself is closed to the public, which means people are prohibited from running onto the course – at least in town. The city also asks residents to keep their dogs at home.

“It’s a great opportunity to show the pride in Durango,” said Mary Monroe, with Trails 2000. “This isn’t just a bike race, this is a full-on tourism opportunity. The more people that we can get to come out and cheer for Durango – and of course, we’re cheering for the racers, too – that would be fabulous.”

City officials were anticipating 25,000 visitors in town today. Twelve city employees equipped with clickers will be assigned to specific areas to count every person they see, LeBlanc said. The city will then inquire with local motels and hotels about their occupancy rates and try to gauge how many people were camping on public lands, he said.

More than 650 volunteers will assist with crowd control and directing traffic.

Local law enforcement is operating under the direction of the Southwest Incident Command Team, a consolidation of emergency responders set up to help coordinate law-enforcement efforts.

Officers will be stationed along the race route, said Jim Spratlen, chief of Durango Police Department.

“Anyone that wants to disrupt it, we’ll have an immediate action group that will come out and stop it,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that can go on with large crowds, especially a large crowd that is going to watch an international event.”

Durango Mayor Doug Lyon thanked local volunteers and organizers who have worked night and day for several months preparing for today’s event.

“Durango has a long and storied tradition with cycling,” he said. “I’m sure there will be great enthusiasm for the overall start of America’s greatest stage race.”

It all starts here.

shane@durangoherald.com

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