From August 17-23, leading cyclists from around the world will battle it out in Colorado during the USA Pro Challenge, a seven-day professional stage race that winds 617 miles around the state. With 44,000 feet of climbing, the race requires legs and lungs of steel. Riders huff their way over relentless mountain passes, sucking wind in the thin alpine air, before finishing on the flats of the Front Range.
One million people are expected to check out the race, which—now in its fifth year—is the largest spectator event in Colorado. Even if you don’t know the difference between drafting and dropping, you’ll have a heck of a lot of fun joining the festivities and watching the peloton pedal past.
Nine cities are hosting the race this year, rolling out the red carpet with celebrations at the start and end of each stage. Plant yourself in a town, or stake out a spot along the course. To decide where and how to view to race, consider the options. Mountain stages offer the chance to watch riders pedal past more slowly. Position yourself along a climb, and you’ll practically be spattered with racers’ sweat. A time trial lets you watch riders whizz past one by one. Circuits give you the chance to see the peloton pass multiple times.
Location is also an issue. Do you have just a day? Want to stick close to Denver? Camp out? Watch a finish? Ride a hill on the course?
To help you figure it all out, here's a handy insider's guide to spectating the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.
Pick your stage wisely.
Here’s a quick overview of stages, along with some options to help you choose where to watch. Use the start and finish times to estimate when racers will pass points along the course.
August 17: Stage 1 – Steamboat Springs Circuit
97 miles, 6,518 feet of climbing
Start time: 11:40 am; Approximate finish: 3:13-4:38 pm
Highlight: Two laps on a circuit
August 18: Stage 2 – Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin
115 miles, 10,078 feet of climbing
Start time: 10:55 am; Approximate finish: 3:04-4:44 pm
Highlight: Mountaintop finish
August 19: Stage 3 – Copper Mountain to Aspen
101 miles, 7,419 feet of climbing
Start time: 11:15 am; Approximate finish: 2:56-4:24 pm
Highlights: Lots of climbing, with more than half the stage above 10,000 feet. Tops out at Independence Pass at 12,096 feet.
August 20: Stage 4 – Aspen to Breckenridge
126 miles, 9,631 feet of climbing
Start time: 10:20 am; Approximate finish: 2:56-4:47 pm
Highlight: Independence Pass (again), Moonstone Road climb just outside of Breckenridge
August 21: Stage 5 – Breckenridge Time Trial
8.5 miles, 792 feet of climbing
Start time: 1:00 pm (amateurs start at 10:00 am); Last rider finishes at 3:50 pm
Highlights: Moonstone Road climb (again), hairy descent
August 22: Stage 6 – Loveland to Fort Collins
102 miles, 6,228 feet of climbing
Start time: 11:45 am; Approximate finish: 3:27-4:57 pm
Highlight: Buckhorn Canyon climb outside of Fort Collins
August 23: Stage 7 – Golden to Denver
68 miles, 3,237 feet of climbing
Start time: 1:10 pm; Approximate finish: 3:38-4:37 pm
Highlight: Lookout Mountain climb in Golden, four laps in downtown Denver
If you want to camp at a mountaintop finish:
The Steamboat to Arapahoe Basin stage (August 18) is sure to be a bear, with racers grunting five miles up Loveland Pass at the end of a 155-mile ride. The good news is you can pitch a tent at the finish and chill out waiting for the race to arrive on Tuesday afternoon. Arapahoe Basin is planning a two-day extravaganza, complete with bands, barbecue, beer, and more. Camping will sell out, so reserve in advance (two nights required—August 17 and 18). You can opt for a tent-sized plot, or team up with friends and grab a bigger spot.
If you want see riders crack on the hardest climb:
Independence Pass dishes up a world of hurt, cracking apart the field on the climb to 12,096 feet. The race crosses over the pass two punishing days in a row, so your best bet is to claim one of the U.S. Forest Service campsites along the road and ride your bike to the top. Most are first-come first-served, so you’ll want to get there at least a day in advance.
If you plan to drive up the pass, you can park on the side of the road between mile markers 56 and 66 (approximately 4 miles on either side of the pass) or at the Difficult Day Use Area (no overnight parking). Get there well in advance since the road will close long before the racers arrive (the road will be closed starting 1-2 hours before the peloton approaches the pass, approximately 1-5 pm on Wednesday). Keep in mind that the area above treeline is fragile alpine tundra, so tread lightly and stay as close to the road as possible.
If you want to camp near stages 3-5:
The U.S. Forest Service offers camping near Dillon and Aspen . If you set up home base at one of the sites down valley from Aspen , you can take the RFTA bus to Aspen, then ride your bike up Independence Pass. Or park at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot at the junction of 82 and Brush Creek Road. Aspen hosts both the finish on Wednesday and the start on Thursday.
If you only have a weekend day off in Denver:
The final stage from Golden to Denver on August 23 will be stellar spectating. Start your day watching the climb up Lookout Mountain in Golden, then make a beeline for downtown Denver to see the final laps.
If you want to see the women battle it out
For the first time, the USA Pro Challenge includes a women’s race , August 21-23, so you can double up your viewing on the last three days. On August 21, the female racers follow the same Breckenridge time trial as the men. August 22 features a grueling route from Loveland to Fort Collins. On the final day, August 23, the women do laps on a tight 1.5-mile circuit in Golden.
• Decide where to watch before heading out.
• Climbs are better than descents for viewing since the riders pass by more slowly.
• Ride your bike if possible, since parking will be tight. (Plus, riding a climb helps you feel the racers’ pain.)
• If driving, get to your spot early since roads will close well before racers come. Check the CDOT website for information on closures.
• If you plan to camp, reserve a spot ahead of time or grab a first-come first-served spot at least a day before the stage.
• Slather on the sunscreen—the sun burns more quickly at altitude.
• Prepare for changes in weather since storms roll in fast in the mountains. Bring warm and waterproof clothing.
• Leave your dog at home or keep it on a tight leash. The last thing you want is your pooch taking out part of the peloton.
• Give the riders plenty of space to pass.