The toughest, most star-studded cycling race on the planet is about to wind through the Rocky Mountains. Now in its third year, the USA Pro Challenge sends the peloton up to a lung-busting 12,000 feet – double the elevation of the highest climb on Le Tour. With the 600-mile, seven-stage course streaming through some of the most scenic and touristed towns in Colorado, cycling fans have no excuse not to turn out for the event.
Here are the best places to watch the 2013 race:
Aspen: August 19 and 20
The race starts in Aspen at almost 8,000 feet. Position yourself near the start/finish line the morning of the August 19 to watch the 128-rider peloton pedal two parade laps through the tony town. After that, the competitors are off for three 22-mile circuit laps between Aspen and Snowmass Village, climbing more than 3,000 feet on each pass. Stay downtown. The place starts rocking as the riders pass through. No, the race won’t be decided in this stage – expect an anti-climactic group finish – but it will be a damn good time.
On August 20, get up early and head to Independence Pass, the highest point on the international bike racing circuit, to watch great athletes confront their limits. Expect the riders to come through between 11:00 am and noon. There’s first-come-first-serve roadside parking on the pass.
Vail: August 22 and 23
Stage 4 on August 22 is considered the Queen Stage (read: hardest) thanks largely to boasting the only summit finish on the course. After 90 miles of riding, the teams encounter Bachelor Gulch and its relentless 18 percent grade. Then it’s a technical descent and a final 2-km climb into Beaver Creek Village some 13 miles west of Vail. The time trial the next day in town, Stage 5, determines the overall winner and is mandatory viewing. The best spot to watch is up the road from the finish, past the last place I-70 overpass. It’s one of the steeper sections but accessible by foot or bike.
Denver: August 25
The race will have already been decided by the time the final stage, Stage 7, brings the peloton to Denver, but it’s still a mob scene in the Mile High City. Spectators gather near the starting line in Civic Center Park, as well as at other downtown hot spots like Larimer Square and City Park. The riders come through at warp speed for eight rip-roaring circuit laps.
More information: Not in Colorado? NBC Sports will be airing 23 hours of the Pro Tour over the course of the week.