A BMC rider signs autographs at the Stage 4 start Thursday in Steamboat Springs. The USA Pro Challenge left town after rushing into it Wednesday morning.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

A BMC rider signs autographs at the Stage 4 start Thursday in Steamboat Springs. The USA Pro Challenge left town after rushing into it Wednesday morning.

Steamboat says goodbye as Pro Challenge rides away

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— Kyle Kagan, an 11-year-old from Steamboat Springs, and Kyle Widemark, an 11-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., didn’t know each other before Thursday morning.

Standing shoulder to shoulder along “autograph alley” at the Stage 4 start of the USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat Springs, the pair realized they had more in common than their first names.

As riders prepared for another day in the saddle, the Kyles were looking for cycling stars.

“We have gotten a lot of them,” Kyle Kagan said, smiling ear to ear as more riders walked past.

Fans flocked to Gondola Square on Thursday morning for the chance to rub elbows with cycling royalty, and they got their chance. The races biggest stars filed by, heading up on a stage to sign in for the day’s ride, then swinging through the congestion of “autograph alley” to the delight of wide-eyed fans, not all of whom where 11 years old.

The Widemark family — Kyle was backed Thursday by his father, Cliff, and mother, Beth — made a point to be in Steamboat Springs for this year’s stop after they saw the 2011 Steamboat stages.

They said they were drawn back by the excitement of seeing all the big riders, and by a general appreciation of Steamboat Springs.

They headed to Wednesday’s finish line at about noon to stake out a good spot, then got there early again Thursday, looking for those autographs.

The Kyles were hugely successful in their quest and offered up a few key tips.

First, and perhaps most importantly, they recognized the key riders, thanks to a carnivorous appetite for cycling news each seemed to possess.

“I watched every stage of the Tour de France this year,” Kyle Widemark said.

That helped them snag a signature this year’s Tour de France champ Chris Froome from Team Sky. They also got an autograph from Wednesday’s stage winner and Tour de France green jersey winner Peter Sagan, and from four-time national road race champion Freddy Rodriquez.

They also suggested something simple: “Getting up close.”

But the real trick was heading to The Steamboat Grand first thing in the morning.

“That’s where all the top riders were,” Kyle Kagan said.

The peloton rolled away from Gondola Square and through downtown one final time before it bid Steamboat adieu, serenaded out as it was in by cowbells, waving fans and loud cheers.

As the race rode away Thursday, it left Steamboat as it did a pair of eager autograph seekers: thrilled.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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