Vail Cory Prager woke up at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday morning to stand on the side of a road beneath a mountain pass, desperately trying to hitch a ride while wearing a giant yellow bee suit.
And that’s far from the strangest thing fans are likely to see Friday as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge flies into Steamboat Springs, or Saturday as it rolls out of town via Rabbit Ears Pass. Elite cycling races seem to pull costumes out of closets as effectively as a sorority Halloween party, and many of the costume-bearers are as scantily clad.
Yes, Steamboat, prepare for everything from guys in gorilla suits chasing others in banana suits to flag-draped, G-string-wearing fanatics.
Prager isn’t in the race costume game for fun, although he said he’s having plenty of it. He’s the man behind “Buzz,” the recently introduced Honey Stinger mascot.
He helped formulate the idea a few months ago, got permission from his higher-ups and ordered the suit on eBay.
This week he’s been focused on getting Buzz as much exposure as possible.
“They wanted a mascot and I jumped to the plate. I was a mascot in high school and figured I’d give it a whirl,” said Prager, who already was a Honey Stinger employee. “I’ve been on TV every day, so that’s been pretty good.”
The plan is to increase the exposure for Honey Stinger, which is serving as the race’s official feed zone sponsor. The Steamboat-based company that counts Lance Armstrong as a part-owner also is the official food sponsor of Team RadioShack.
The exposure seems to be working. Buzz spent the Monday prologue in Colorado Springs near the starting line, and he was at the finish line Tuesday in Crested Butte, where he was welcomed to the stage with twin kisses from the “podium girls.”
“I’ve had hundreds of people just want to take pictures with Buzz,” Prager said. “The numbers have been growing every day.”
On Wednesday he tried to one-up his stage spot with the podium girls by getting atop Independence Pass, the second of two 12,000-foot climbs that defined the Gunnison to Aspen stage. Members of the Honey Stinger crew — also traveling with the race to promote their products — helped scout out a location on the climb, and with the help of a kind-hearted driver, that’s where Buzz was let off.
When the racers arrived, the giant bee ran alongside them as long as he could.
“Ya know, that suit’s pretty hot,” Prager said.
“They had a pretty good location picked out for me, a steeper spot where I could run with them for a little bit and not get completely dropped,” he continued. “The lead group dropped me pretty quick, but I ran with the chase group and the peloton.”
He had advice for any costume-wearing fans prepping for a run in front of the cameras Friday or Saturday in Steamboat Springs.
The climb along Rabbit Ears should prove ideal, as the road’s sharp pitch will slow down the bikers.
“And have someone to spot for you,” he said. “You need to know where the riders are. Those guys ride really fast, so bring your running shoes.”