Steamboat Springs The crowd of anxious cyclists gathered next to Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare on Monday morning pushed forward en masse as the man they were all waiting to see appeared suddenly to lead them on a community bike ride they wouldn’t soon forget.
Andy Schleck, a 26-year-old professional cyclist from Luxembourg and a three-time runner-up in the Tour de France, arrived at Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue around 10 a.m. Monday and wasted no time signing jerseys and water bottles for the anxious crowd.
“Today I’m an Andy Schleck groupie,” said Johanna Hall, who rode downtown on an early lunch break from her job at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. “I’m a huge fan.”
Steamboat resident Jack Trautman rode downtown Monday to join what he called a flash mob-style gathering.
“To have a chance to ride with a pro is always fantastic,” he said.
Schleck arrived in Steamboat Springs last week to train, acclimate and relax before the upcoming USA Pro Cycling Challenge that will bring other top pro cyclists from around the world to Steamboat on Aug. 26 and 27 for the race’s fourth and fifth stages.
After chatting with several of the 150 cyclists like Hall who surrounded him and telling the crowd how much he was enjoying riding and fly-fishing in Steamboat, Schleck led the riders on a community ride down River Road and on to Routt County Road 14 and beyond.
The riders departed Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare and rode with Schleck, and at times behind a police escort, to the historic schoolhouse at Hilton Gulch before Schleck stopped to chat with the crowd again. The cyclist for the Leopard Trek team then went off at his own pace, pulling away from most of the riders he had in tow.
Trautman said the pack of cyclists moved at a fast pace along Routt County roads 14 and 35 as they completed the approximately 25-mile ride.
“Everybody wanted to ride next to Andy, including me, so everyone in the back started to ride like it was a sprint to the finish,” he said.
Trautman said one of the highlights occurred as he coasted up to Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue after the ride, where he was able to shake Schleck’s hand and chat with him as they waited for the light to change.
“He told me he was having a lot of fun in Steamboat,” Trautman said.
As rider Grace Curé arrived back downtown, she said she enjoyed her first ride in a peloton.
“It was exhilarating,” she said. “I can’t wait for the Pro Cycling Challenge to come through.”