As Tejay Van Garderen descends slick mountain highways at speeds in excess of 60 mph, the BMC rider focuses on every turn and bump in the road. Thousands of miles away, in front of a TV, Jessica Phillips can hardly stand to watch.
When you’re married to a professional cyclist, that’s part of life. Crashes, injuries and even death are harsh realities when winning means everything and you’re riding a 15-pound carbon frame.
“July is now going to be my least favorite month,” Phillips said referring to the three-week Tour de France. “In a big race, I realize they have to take risks. So when we talk, I’ll say, ‘Take the risks, but only when you have to. And the times you don’t, please be so careful.’”
Van Garderen, who lives in Boulder, understands why his wife would worry. He knows danger lurks at every corner.
“I joked with her during the Tour that I might need to make a rule that she doesn’t watch the race,” he said. “There were so many crashes. It’s hard for her to see the dangerous part of the Tour. When we’re at home, it’s a taboo subject we don’t talk about.
“But I realize some things aren’t worth risking your life for.”
Phillips is a former professional cyclist so she knows firsthandwhat her husband is up against on a daily basis.
“She knows how it feels to come back from a training ride and be really tired,” Van Garderen said. “She knows when she needs to take it easy on me. She gets itShe understands that what I’m doing out there, it’s a job.”
Upon completing a difficult Stage 6 on Saturday, many riders couldn’t stop smiling. It’s not that they enjoyed the pain inflicted over 103.3 miles from Golden to Boulder. It’s about the reception they received along the way.
“I’m trying to find the words to describe it,” Levi Leipheimer said. “Last year the stage from Golden to Denver was phenomenal. And people were starting to argue about which is the biggest day in American cycling — that day or a couple of the days in Tour of California or before my time in the Coors Classic.
“But I don’t think there’s any argument (now). That was incredible. That was a big day for the Tour de France.”
The 3.5-mile finish up Flagstaff Mountain was a sight to behold, as fans came out by the thousands.
“When they announced they expect 20,000 or 30,000 people, I went, ‘Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it,’” German rider Jens Voigt said. “But hey, I’m a believer now. I saw it with my own eyes. I mean I didn’t count all of them, but roughly guessing, yeah, it must have been 20,000 to 30,000.”
Added Boulder native Timothy Duggan: “That was about what I expected. I figured it was going to be insane, and it didn’t disappoint.”
The USA Pro Challenge covered 683 miles over seven days across the state, from the start in Durango to the finish in Denver. For many in the field, the scenic highways were familiar roads.
Of the 48 Americans who started Stage 1 a week ago, 22 are from Colorado. And most of those — 18 — are from the cycling-crazed town of Boulder.
“Some words don’t describe the beauty of cycling in Colorado and the beauty of racing in Boulder,” said Rory Sutherland, an Australian native who transplanted to Boulder. “For me, it is my adopted home. This is where I live. This is where I’m bringing up a familye.”
Sutherland, who rides for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, used his local knowledge of Flagstaff Mountain — a climb he estimates he’s made nearly 100 times — to win Stage 6. The proven training ground is one of the reasons he moved from Down Under.
“You’ve always heard about Boulder because, in the world, it’s one of the heartlands of cycling,” he said.
Discussing — and arguing — about crowd estimates is one of the constant sidelights of the USA Pro Challenge. Some say the estimates are inflated. Some say the estimates are deflated.
Shawn Hunter, CEO of the race, understands the disagreements.
Bicycle racing, he explains, is different than most sports. The crowds are spread over a vast landscape of dozens of miles. Estimating a crowd, he said, is “a little bit art and a little bit science. There is no way - there is absolutely no way - you can make it an exact scienceOn Saturday, Hunter sat in a car for the entire 102.8-mile route. He saw spectators along the entire route. Most fans, he said, only see the crowds at one spot.
“It was one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen,” Hunter said.”
Vande Velde underestimated?
In the press conference following the race, a journalist suggested Christian Vande Velde, the Challenge’s winner, had been underestimated prior to the competition.
Defending champ Levi Leipheimer challenged the suggestion.
“Who underestimated you?” Leipheimer asked Vande Velde. “I didn’t underestimate you.”
Tyler Farrar, who won Friday’s stage in Colorado Springs, took home the sprint jersey in the second-year even.
“I can’t really ask for much more from the race,” the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda rider said. “I really only thought there would be one sprint coming here, so to win two stages is already a bonus and to take the green jersey is even better.
Jens Voigt of RadioShack Nissan Trek claimed the king of the mountains jersey thanks in part to his Stage 4 victory in Beaver Creek. Tom Danielson, the Garmin cyclist who won Stage 3 in Aspen, received the most aggressive rider jersey. And Joseph Lloyd Dombroski of Bontrager-Livestrong finished with the best young rider jersey.
Seen and heard
Colorado Springs resident Michael Creed finished 18th ... When BMC rider George Hincapie finished, he took time to wave and blow kisses to the fans. After a 19-year career that included a record 17 appearances in the Tour de France, Stage 7 was Hincapie’s last as a pro. ... There was plenty of carnage in Denver. Chris Butler crashed on the second turn out of the starting gate while Freddy Piamonte hit a barrier on the final corner, sending the rider head over heels into the crowd. ... During the broadcast of the race, analyst Paul Sherwen said, “They have a very good baseball team here in Denver as well.” At least Sherwen knows his cycling.
Nathan Van Dyne and
David Ramsey, The Gazette