USA Pro Challenge: Spectators urged to curb eagerness for souvenir photos and keep the peloton safe | SteamboatToday.com

USA Pro Challenge: Spectators urged to curb eagerness for souvenir photos and keep the peloton safe

— Going to the 2015 USA Pro Challenge?

Leave your selfie sticks at home, and keep your wits about you on the race course.

Much of the appeal of a professional cycling road race is the intimacy spectators enjoy. Fans of the USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat Springs Monday, Aug. 17 and Tuesday, Aug. 18 can mingle with the athletes and their crews prior to race starts, and cycling allows spectators to get remarkably close to the race course.

Sometimes, they get too close.

There are those who would say, "That's bicycle racing." After all, competitors in the Tour de France this year had to avoid cows in the highway during a high-speed descent. But injuries caused by careless fans are unfair to the athletes. And it happens at races all over the world.

A spectator at the Giro Italia this summer caused a major crash while attempting to join the peloton on his own bike.

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In 2013, two spectators attempting to get photographs of themselves with the cyclists in the background in Steamboat caused a crash and injuries when the USA Pro Challenge was last here.

Steamboat's wildly enthusiastic cycling fans are an important part of the scene, but this year, spectators are urged to use common sense.

Steamboat residents Matt Charity, a former member of Great Britain's national cycling team, Moots bicycles marketing manager Jon Cariveau, and Steve Williams, a former racer who has cycled all over the world, offered some suggestions on how USA Pro Challenge spectators can enjoy the thrill of the race without becoming a danger to themselves and the athletes.

"With the social media available through a camera lens now, I think there are more people willing to get in the way of a bike race," Charity said. "The message in world cycling now is, 'give the riders respect and space.'"

Williams encouraged cycling fans to think about the impact a collision could have on an athlete's career.

"These young professionals put themselves at extraordinary risk out on the road and spend thousands of hours training," Williams said. "This is really the creme de la creme and below this level are thousands of guys who want to make it into the pro ranks. We, as spectators, have to put it in context — do something stupid to take one of these guys out, and chances are it could ruin their career. That's no legacy we want to have associated with Bike Town USA."

Charity understands how American fans have been influenced by television coverage of the Tour de France. Cycling enthusiasts in North America have marveled at how the athletes pedal their bikes through a narrow corridor of fans, some, in costume, sprinting immediately ahead of the cyclists.

Charity said there seems to be a disconnect in local fans minds between cyclists, who are chugging up the climb to Alpe d'Huez in the Tour de France, and racers streaming down Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs as they approach the sprint to the finish.

"As they come through our town, they are going to be going fast, more than 40 miles per hour," Charity said. "I think some spectators don't quite realize how fast they are going. It's all about having an understanding that the cyclists aren't focused on you. You're just a blur."

If anything, the behavior of European fans is becoming worse, Charity said.

"The nature of the races in Europe is that people have camped out for days,” Charity said. “There's a lot of alcohol, and the pros are aware of the environment they are passing through."

Cariveau agreed.

"This year at the Tour de France was a new low with fans getting in the way, with people spraying (racers) with not only water, but beer and even urine,” Cariveau said. “It's really a big party in a lot of ways.”

Cariveau has a short list of "don'ts" and "dos" for fans.

• Don't bring your dog to the race. Whether or not they are leashed, they have no place at the actual race. A loose dog can be really bad.

• Don't reach out and touch someone. Pro racers don't need a pat on the shoulder or a boost on their saddle. "They don't like being touched while suffering," Cariveau said.

• Don't attempt to run with the cyclists as they climb Coal Mine Hill during the circuit race in Steamboat. "That's definitely a recipe for disaster," Cariveau said.

• Do understand that as part of race strategy, "domestiques" supporting their team leader will deliberately race on course edges along Lincoln Avenue to block passing attempts by rivals. Do stay above the curb.

• Do keep track of young children in the confusion along the race course. There are motorcycles and support cars accelerating by the peloton.

• Do show your pride in your community. It's traditional in even the smallest towns in Europe to spruce up their homes and shops and make the riders feel welcome.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1