August 22, 2014 Updated: August 22, 2014 at 11:13 am
Welcome to Cycling For Dummies. First things first.
In cycling, the trophy girls are not trophy girls.
"We are the USA Pro Challenge Podium Hostesses," Courtney explained alongside the fancy stage in downtown Colorado Springs.
Podium hostesses? Sounds so official.
"It is official," Heidi chimed in. "I get a little sand in my teeth after every kiss."
And we're off. Here I thought the super-duper road race that whizzed around town Thursday was a test of traffic gridlock. In fact, it included a post-race lip-lock.
Jens Voigt, a German cyclist and kind of a big deal, got a smooch from Courtney and Heidi, and a cool new jersey: Most Aggressive Rider.
That's just one of the beauties of cycling. In real life, aggressive driving gets you a ticket. In cycling, it gets you a kiss from Courtney.
"You just witnessed one of the best days in the history of this sport!" the race emcee shouted over the loudspeaker.
Cycling is called a niche sport. Maybe elsewhere. Considering the fan turnout for the USA Pro Challenge, that would be one big niche.
There were 92 men's elite riders who finished Stage 4 on Thursday. The stage winner, Canada's Elia Viviani of Cannondale Racing, averaged 28.32 mph.
I averaged 12 dumb questions per hour. Mercifully, the cycling community is a forgiving one.
Why are these guys better than the average cyclist?
"Stronger legs," said Karl Klepfer, a local rider.
What about on the hills?
"Stronger lungs," he said.
See, not that complicated.
"This is the coolest thing ever," Axel Ulrich said. He's 13. Naturally, we hit it off.
"They come by you so fast that you feel the wind blow in your face," Axel said.
Talk about a cycling career highlight: At Thursday's race, Axel met the cyclist for whom he is named - Axel Mercx, the man who founded Bissell Racing.
"He was so cool," the younger Axel said.
The smile hanging across Axel's face offered convincing proof. Now tell me about the cowbell hanging from your dad's arm?
"We're from Switzerland," said his father, Yann Ulrich. "When you're from Switzerland, you have a big cowbell."
Here's something else about cycling I didn't know: It's noisy. For a sport with engine-less vehicles, cycling races are louder than the beer tent at happy hour. The only thing cyclists love more than whistles are car horns. And cowbells. Cowbells for days.
"You need a cowbell," Yann said.
I need a map. Street closures also are popular in cycling. Thursday's circuit was 17 miles long. It closed roughly 117 streets. The only motorists unaffected by the course were those offering support in the race. On one stretch of Colorado Avenue, 12 cyclists sped past. They were trailed by a Lexus, Audi, BMW and a BMW motorcycle. (Cycling teams, we learned, don't drive lemons.) Moments later, the next pack of 30-something cyclists sped past. I counted another 28 fancy cars, followed by another eight ambulances and police cars. It seemed there was a car for every rider.
"GET OFF THE ROAD!" a course marshal suggested, politely.
Cycling is not for dummies, so I took the marshal's advice.