Daniel Summerhill, of Team Garmin-Cervelo, signs an autograph Satuday before the Stage 5 start of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Daniel Summerhill, of Team Garmin-Cervelo, signs an autograph Satuday before the Stage 5 start of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat crowds get up close and personal with riders

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Rabbit Ears Climb

Riders climb Rabbit Ears Pass on Saturday during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

— It was early Saturday morning, and Tania Coffey was pressing herself against a metal gate with hundreds of fellow cycling fans, clutching a glossy poster with several autographs from professional cyclists. She planned to give the poster to her son.

Coffey, a local resident and avid biker, said she was proud of Steamboat for turning out in huge numbers to support the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. And during Saturday’s Athletes Alley before the Stage 5 race start, she was excited to be able to see the international athletes up close and personal.

“It’s so dorky,” she said. “But it’s so fun to see. Dave Zabriskie came down here and he signed autographs for us, and he is a rock star.

“They’re really nice about it.”

The Stage 5 start of the Pro Cycling Challenge might not have had the “wow” factor of the sprint finish and enormous crowds of Stage 4 on Friday afternoon, but Saturday’s expo and send-off was a dream come true for those who follow the sport of cycling.

There were several hundred on hand at the Meadows Parking Lot for the morning event, which offered a more behind-the-scenes look at how the pro cycling world functions.

The riders warmed up by riding through the crowd while their support teams packed up tires and wheels before the 11:20 a.m. start.

Men with shaved legs and spandex wandered the crowd, giddy and star-struck, talking gear ratios with professional team members. Crowds gathered at the door to each tour bus, craning their necks and lifting cameras overhead to catch a glimpse of the athletes.

Local resident Karin Kagan had her picture taken with a few Skil-Shimano team members who were lounging in the back of a support car.

“The direct interaction with the athletes has been great,” she said. “It’s so great that they’ve taken the time.”

Kagan said she had a special interest in checking out the professionals’ bikes Saturday. On Sunday, she’s competing in the Olympic-distance Steamboat Triathlon at Lake Catamount.

Meeting the pro cyclists was inspiring, she said.

“It’s fun to see this kind of energy,” she said.

This weekend won’t be one that local officials or residents will soon forget.

Although it was in the upper 70s in the Meadows Parking Lot by late morning, Michelle Krasilinec, spokeswoman for the Steamboat Chamber Resort Association, had goose bumps as she talked about watching the coverage of Steamboat Springs on national TV.

“We’ve always been a bike-friendly community, but this was a visual representation that that’s true,” Krasilinec said. “We knew it was going to be big, but we really didn’t know how big it would be. It blew my mind.”

And the athletes recognized the local support as well, as many of them relayed during broadcast interviews right before the start.

Among those lauding the crowds in Steamboat was Tour de France winner Cadel Evans.

“Everyone has been so appreciative of us staying here,” Evans said. “It’s been so overwhelming to us.”

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First riders arrive just below Rabbit Ears Pass

The crowds came out en masse for the climb up Rabbit Ears Pass and the race to the King of the Mountain line

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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