Steamboat Springs A steady stream of cyclists chose to avoid the crowds and took the USA Pro Challenge party to Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday.
With a race finish in downtown Steamboat Springs, Rabbit Ears was not as packed with spectators as it was when the USA Pro Challenge bike race first came through Steamboat in 2011, when an estimated 15,000 lined U.S. Highway 40 to watch the climb. That year, riders started Stage 5 by leaving Steamboat and ascending Rabbit Ears Pass.
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While the crowds were not as large this year on Rabbit Ears Pass, the mood still was festive. Exhibitors showed their products, music blared and some of the sport’s biggest fanatics cheered on the racers at the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass. There were two other main spectator areas at the east summit. At 9,426 feet, it was a King of the Mountain location, where riders compete for points to be crowned the best climber.
The cycling spectators along mountain passes are notorious for dressing up and turning the event into a party as they wait for the lead riders to arrive. Friends Maddy Marsh and Kara Shell did not disappoint as they ran along the side of U.S. 40 wearing capes. Marsh, of Vail, dressed as the Orange Avenger and and Shell, of Ohio, was the Green Dragon.
“We really enjoy all the friendly people,” Shell said.
Shell said she is not a “crazy person” when it comes to cycling, but she follows the sport. After watching a USA Pro Challenge stage last year, she decided to time a vacation to Colorado to coincide with this year’s race.
“We thought it was so fun,” Shell said. “We decided to follow it this year.”
Larry Petersen and Sandy Dixon, a couple from Iowa, also decided to time their vacation so they could check out the race.
“We’ve talked about going to see some of the people on the Tour de France,” Petersen said. “I said, ‘Why not just go to Colorado?’”
Like many of the spectators, Petersen rode his bike to Rabbit Ears from where he was staying with family in Kremmling.
Steamboat resident and Honey Stinger employee Cory Prager camped on Rabbit Ears overnight. Prager has been following the tour and representing his company by dressing as the Buzz the Bee mascot and handing out Honey Stinger products.
“Every stop is a little different party,” Prager said. “We try to keep the party buzzing.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com
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