Oak Creek Jacey Schlegel and Katie Parker had never seen anything like it.
From their vantage point on the hillside near Soroco High School, the friends watched as some of the most famous cyclists in the world approached their usually sleepy hometown of Oak Creek during Stage 4 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
“They brought a lot of noise with them,” Schlegel said after the racers went by.
Hundreds lined Oak Creek’s Main Street on Friday, and many in the crowd pulled out their cowbells and American flags well before the peloton rolled through town. A breakout pack of five racers were the first to roar into town toward a sprint finish line there, prompting cheers and hollers from the South Routt students who were dismissed early from school and the spectators who lined the streets with them.
Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel had been anxiously waiting for the race to pass through and said preparations for the event began weeks ago.
“As a town, we tried to dress everything up,” she said. “We put new flowers in the flowerpots, and the VFW lined Main Street with American flags. We’re just so honored to have a race of this level come through.”
She said the town was feeding off the excitement that was starting to build at the finish point up the road in Steamboat Springs.
Fort Collins residents Chuck and Jacque Gustafson reserved their seats on a sidewalk at the south end of town more than two hours before the cyclists arrived. They said they picked Oak Creek as their viewing point because of the sprint finish line that was placed at the north end of Main Street.
“Races can be pretty boring to watch unless you have a sprint point or a finish line nearby,” Chuck Gustafson said. “I expect there will be some real excitement in the last 500 meters.”
The town also was temporarily inhabited by race staff, many of whom had never set foot in Oak Creek. As he prepared to help make sure no traffic would interfere with the race, race marshal Paul Reinhardt, from San Luis Obispo, Calif., said he found the town welcoming.
“I like all these small towns we’ve gotten to visit here in Colorado,” he said. “Everyone really seems to appreciate the race.”
Business owners said they were happy with the amount of foot traffic the race had drawn through Friday
Brand Spankin’ Used thrift store owner Janine Pierce, who was trying to find a bicycle Friday afternoon to place next to a mannequin in front of her store, said she had seen a lot of new faces in town.
“It’s been pretty good for business,” Pierce said. “Because we’re such a small town, we need to make use of every event that comes through here.”
And across the street at Select Super Market, owner Lenny Herzog reflected on the race’s trek through town.
“We saw a lot more people here today than we’re used to,” he said. “It was something you don’t get to see all the time.”
But Oak Creek returned to normalcy almost as quickly as the peloton passed. Five minutes after the riders had left town and entered Oak Creek canyon, quiet had replaced the cowbells and cheers that rang throughout the town moments earlier.
“It was fast,” Herzog said. “They didn’t spend a lot of time here in town.”
USA Pro Cycling Challenge Steamboat stage timelapse
The scene from the roof of the Old Town Pub in downtown Steamboat Springs during Friday's finish.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email ScottFranz@SteamboatToday.com