The USA Pro Challenge in Aspen: What You Need To Know

Jeremy Swanson/Aspen Snowmass
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Now in its fifth year, the USA Pro Challenge cycling race has quickly gained international acclaim in cycling circles and beyond. Considered to be one of the most challenging cycling races in the country, the Colorado-based USA Pro Challenge tests the world’s best cyclists with climbs that begin well over 8,000 feet and continue to 12,000-plus feet. Aspen’s iconic Independence Pass is one of the tour’s most difficult sections and, if you do a little advance planning, it can be one of the coolest spots to take in the race and all its grueling glory. Here’s the intel on the USA Pro Challenge in Aspen.

Spectating Done Right

The Aspen stages are Stage 3 (Wed., Aug. 19, 2015) and Stage 4 (Thurs., Aug. 20, 2015). For the ultimate spectating experience from the best vantage points, you’re going to want to camp at one of the spectacular sites along Highway 82. Be sure to get there a couple days in advance to secure a campsite. Some recommendations include Lost Man, Lincoln Creek/Grizzly Reservoir, and Weller Lake.

Independence Pass is one of the most challenging sections of the seven-day, Colorado-based USA Pro Challenge.
Independence Pass is one of the most challenging sections of the seven-day, Colorado-based USA Pro Challenge. Jeremy Swanson/Aspen Snowmass

Lost Man campground is located closest to the summit of Independence Pass and provides opportunities to a variety of hiking trails, including Lost Man Loop and Midway Trail , which are great spots to watch the peloton from above. For ultimate convenience, Weller Campground is it. You'll have to travel just steps from your campsite to watch the racers zoom by. There are also campsites along Lincoln Creek Road , which range from less than a mile walk to the race course to more than six.

The farther back you go on the road, though, the more rewarded you'll be with open, high-alpine valleys and stunning Rocky Mountain peaks. The most scenic sites can be enjoyed around Grizzly Reservoir, which is also a great place to stand-up paddleboard.

Keep in mind that if you’re planning on camping on the west side of Highway 82, the road will be closed to vehicular traffic Wed., Aug. 19 through Thurs., Aug. 20. So pack accordingly for two days.

If your idea of spectating doesn’t include sleeping on the ground, you can watch the athletes finish Stage 3 and start Stage 4 in downtown Aspen. You'll be able to get up-close views of some of the world's best cyclists and experience the excitement buzzing around the finish line. (But be aware of the various sections of downtown that will be closed to vehicular traffic and map out your route accordingly.)

How to Cycle Aspen Like the Pros

If you’re in town a day or two before or after the race, test your mettle on your own Pro Challenge by riding up and down the fourth-highest paved road in Colorado. From downtown Aspen, you’ll climb for 18 miles and a grueling 4,400 vertical feet. Once at the top of the pass, you can either turn around and head back to Aspen or continue to the beautiful Twin Lakes for a roundtrip of 73 miles and 7,300 vertical feet of climbing.

Stage 3 takes athletes 101 miles from Copper Mountain through Twin Lakes and over Independence Pass.
Stage 3 takes athletes 101 miles from Copper Mountain through Twin Lakes and over Independence Pass. USA Pro Challenge

This burly section puts just how challenging the race really is into perspective. Stage 3 begins in Copper Mountain—101 miles from Aspen—and then takes athletes to Twin Lakes and over Independence Pass, finishing in downtown Aspen. The next day, athletes turn around and ride back up Independence Pass and all the way to Breckenridge, which is 126 miles from Aspen.

Stage 4  runs from Aspen to  Breckenridge and features more than 126 miles.
Stage 4 runs from Aspen to Breckenridge and features more than 126 miles. USA Pro Challenge

If you’re up for it, cycling to and from Independence Pass is an unforgettable experience. But there are plenty of other iconic rides to enjoy while you’re in Aspen, too. Some other don’t-miss routes in the area include Lenado, the Maroon Bells , Ashcroft , and Cottonwood Pass.

More Pro Challenge Experiences

In addition to the main attraction, cycling enthusiasts can take advantage of several excellent events around Aspen. One highlight is on Tuesday, August 18, when local pro cyclist and highly respected trainer Moi Wertz will lead a free, 35-mile roundtrip Community Ride up Castle Creek Road, starting at 9 am from the Aspen Club, followed by food and a raffle (the event requires pre-registration).

There's something for the speedsters, too: At 5 pm on August 18 and 11 am on August 19, an exciting sprint race will be held around downtown Aspen. If you have little cyclists in tow, they have the opportunity to race and finish beneath the official USA Pro Challenge Finish on Main Street in the Aspen Kids Fun Ride—held at 1:45 pm on August 19.

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