Excitable crowd turns out for USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Excitable crowd turns out for USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat

— The big crowds for Stage 3 of the USA Pro Challenge cycling race arrived in downtown Steamboat Springs later than they did for the race in 2011, but their enthusiasm was undiminished Wednesday. By the time the peloton began its descent of Rabbit Ears Pass a little after 4 p.m., Bike Town USA showed up and thundered in anticipation.

As the motorcycles ferrying photographers buzzed down Lincoln Avenue ahead of the racers, people rang more than a thousand cowbells passed out as schwag and others beat their inflatable batons on the advertising panels lining the course. Hundreds more lined U.S. Highway 40 beginning nearly 3 miles from town.

"It's awesome, and what's awesome is the energy in Steamboat," Bob Lyman, of Placida, Fla., said after the race.

When the leaders flashed by and the race was won by Peter Sagan, of Team Cannondale, in the last couple of blocks down Steamboat's main drag, the crowd roared its approval. But this finish was more drawn out than in 2011, and as small groups of riders continued to come in — some of them with grim faces, a few with shredded jerseys and a couple with obvious abrasions — it began to dawn on people that there had been a crash late in the race.

Still, the announcers carried on and lauded the top finishers, and people felt the excitement of the day. Perhaps no one was having more fun than the trio of Ashley Gamble, Daniel Sheridan and Andrea Schoenberger, of Steamboat Springs, who made a dash down the last few blocks of the race course after all of the riders had passed safely.

Sheridan, who competed in the Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series this summer, was wearing a banana costume because, he said, "All of the riders need potassium."

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Gamble, who wore a red wig and a sundress, said the USA Pro Challenge has earned a prominent spot on her calendar.

"It's my new favorite Steamboat holiday," she said.

Schoenberger was wearing a leotard and a ski racing bib that her dog wore in last summer's river regatta. She was pleased that she and her friends got some of the racers to smile as they sped by.

"They've just been through the biggest hardship and accomplished something really impressive, and you see some of them give you a sly little smile," she said.

Steamboat restaurateur Fritz Aurin became an unsung hero in the crowd when another spectator dropped a plastic camera lens cap onto the race course minutes before the racers arrived. The lens cap rolled outside of arm's reach to a spot where it might have caused a hazard.

Fortunately, Aurin was standing by with a three wood and a pitching wedge. Without hesitation, he snaked the iron under the barrier, hooked the errant lens cap and possibly averted another spill on the race course.

Why did he bring his golf clubs to a bicycle race?

"I'm pretty sure I lost a ball around here, but I can't find it anywhere," Aurin cracked with deadpan humor.

The parents of a Steamboat bicycling VIP, Paul and Bonnie Davis, of Michigan, were among the crowd lining the course. Their son is Doug Davis, director of Steamboat Springs Bike Town USA.

"We've had a fabulous time," Paul Davis said. "We rode the (Yampa River) Core Trail yesterday."

I don't know whether Doug Davis has heard his mother tell this story before, but she still has her original 1960 Schwinn bicycle. And she named it the Screamin' Demon after a decal she pasted onto the bike as a little girl.

"I could ride around corners with no hands," Bonnie Davis told me.

It's no wonder that cycling comes naturally to Doug Davis.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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