Enjoy the race

Christmas Day’s early for a cycling town

Sunday evening, Durangoans showed again that they enjoyed a Main Avenue party. Local restaurants served one-handed food from under canopies near their regular places of businesses and fast-paced music flowed from a portable band shell in midstreet. There were plenty of locals who arrived by foot and by bicycle to enjoy the adjacent closed streets, and out-of-towners were taking it all in.

Fourth of July fireworks, postponed by a hot-and-dry early summer, were launched after 9 p.m. “Isolated showers” have been the rule during the last two weeks, but they have been sufficiently frequent that every area has been covered several times.

On Saturday evening, USA Pro Cycling Challenge race team members were introduced to the applause of diners under a big white tent on the Fort Lewis College campus, a tent that sloped skyward to resemble a junior Denver International Airport. In Italian, Spanish and some Russian, as well as English, riders said how much they enjoyed being in Durango and were looking forward to the Monday start of the weeklong cross-Colorado staged race.

There was friendly Boulder vs. Durango banter as to the more appealing place for a cyclist to live, while one sports commentator could not stop talking about the steam railroad locomotives he had discovered here.

This morning, USA Pro Cycling Challenge events get under way at 8 a.m. at Main Avenue and Eighth Street with a variety of pre-race start recognitions. Gov. John Hickenlooper is in town both to recognize the Durango Discovery Museum for its creativity and to help send off the racers, and he will have a few minutes at the microphone. (Former Gov. Bill Ritter, who was a member of the small group that had the vision to create this international Colorado event, was at Saturday’s dinner.)

An effort also is being made to honor locals who participated in past Olympics, in a multitude of sports, and they should be introduced between 8 and 10 a.m.

More than 100 racers will be off at 10 a.m., making two warmup laps using Main Avenue and the Boulevard connected by 12th and Fifth streets before they head to the Fort Lewis College campus on College Drive, down North College Drive and back into the downtown on Florida Road. Then the slow riding – so to speak – is over and they head west past Nighthorse Reservoir and to U.S. Highway 160 and on to Telluride.

There will be no stragglers in this event, and there is nothing to be gained by holding back. The eight members of the 16 teams will be past in a flash, so spectators had better be in place.

Then Buckley Park becomes the center of activities for the day, boosted by a large screen that will show the riders’ progress to Telluride.

After the day is over, there is certain to be some discussion about just how many people came to town for the state’s second annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge, but with activities at the college on Saturday and Sunday, downtown on Sunday and what is expected to be a packed Buckley Park on Monday, everyone who is here will have had a very good time.

See the racers off this morning and then enjoy Buckley Park.