Did you know that the road from Gunnison to Aspen is really long? Today the racers strolled through 130 miles of major Colorado mountains, like Cottonwood and Independence passes, both in one day, and both above 12,000 feet (or, about 3,700 meters for the European readers). Today's distance was so big that, in fact, it was the Queen Stage. The "Queen Stage" is bicycle racer talk for the longest stage of the whole race. Today's Queen Stage was brought to you by New Belgium, very cool. We are sponsoring the whole Pro Challenge, but with our sponsorship package comes the chance host a stage, and we got this one. So long, so cool.
Unlike yesterday, we did catch the start today in Gunnison. And then hustled the alternative route to Aspen, long roads, lots of team vehicles, and some dangerous passes (both in elevation and speed). But before we rip into the stage highlights, let's review our story arc: first comes the intro (you're reading it now), then Simposonic's video, then my (Juicebox's) awesome story and photos starting from last night's party and progressing until just after today's finish. So, without further ado...
Now, The Story (and photos)!
After the super awesome finish and stage recap yesterday, Simpsonic and I headed out into Crested Butte to get some pizza, a few great beers and give away another cruiser. The New Belgium Beer Rangers were already posted up (as the previous nights) at the Brick Oven in Crested Butted, drawing the crowd in to buy beers and raffle tickets. The 10 o'clock hour struck and it was time for some good ol' fashioned rock-paper-cruiser... Here is another glamor shot of Ranger Jeff with the big winner:
She was pretty stoked to take that bike home, her grin was ear to ear on the way out of the bar.
After the bike give away the owner (Brian) of the Brick Oven came to visit our table and he came bringing gifts (beers). Some aged sours from NBB, the Bruery, Lost Abbey, and a few Belgians that I can't pronounce (much less spell). It was super fun, and super nice of him to give us such red carpet treatment.
Then, as the previous nights, it was time to head back to our accommodations and sleep. We needed to be ready for the long day coming.
And then the alarm went off very early, 6:15am. Jeepers. But we had to hit it early today because the fine folks over at Team Optum offered up some meet and greet time. But to get to that meet and greet we had to be in Gunnison (45 minutes from CB) at 8:00am. We made it, under the gun and under caffeinated, but we made it. The Optum guys had just pulled in and they we chamios-ing up when we got to their RV. Mike Creed (with his wonderful hair) and Mike Friedman were gracious to spend some time with us (see the video). That was super nice of them and really fun. We got this opportunity because Optum's full name is Optum, presented by Kelly Benefits, and Kelly benefits just so happens to provide New Belgium's prescription plan benefits. Awesome, huh? A great connection and a wonderful group of people... I would show you some awesome pictures, but the video has all the gems, so go back up to the top of the page and watch that again.
And then, as I was wandering around the start area I got a nice shot of Jens Voigt. He's my favorite:
What you can't see in this photo (because all the people standing in the way) is that Jens is standing there, talking to Barry Bonds. No kidding, Barry Bonds, who knew he was a cycling fan (and who knew Jens was a baseball fan)...
After our time with the Optum fellas, and strolling around the start, Simpsonic and jumped back into the NBB team car and pushed to Aspen, the long way. The route we took brought us through the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park (and lots of other places too). It was such beautiful scenery, just gorgeous. Though, while driving we kept running into team buses, they don't drive very fast. Here was my view of the Radioshack bus:
All the more I have to say about this driving experience is that I hope the Radioshack riders are faster than their bus (holy smokes)...
We were pressed for time today (as with everyday) so we had to make the most of our drive. Here is Simpsonic, editing video as I drive like a jerk through very twisty terrain (I'm surprised he didn't vomit):
When we finally pulled into Aspen the race winner was only 2KM out and we were running, fighting crowds and trying to get a good picture. I failed, I got nothing from the finish line, and I am sorry (Simpsononic did get some video). But my good pal Foos captured this stunning shot of Tom Danielson (today's winner) as he was slapping hands and enjoying his win:
Danielson put in an absolutely Herculean effort today, off the front, almost caught, but he never gave up. Hats off to him, it was the ride of a season (maybe a lifetime). And I hope to be described like that someday...
And then New Belgium's own CEO, Kim Jordan (as per our Queen Stage hosting) got award Mr. Danielson his winning gifts today. It was a great moment:
And after all the jerseys were distributed, and all hands were shook, another winner emerged, Shift Pale Lager:
And then the stage and festival drew to a close, it was another awesome day. But before I leave you I would like to present some more photos that need no description:
And from there, we're out. See you tomorrow from atop Independence Pass (those poor riders have to race that again (bummer for them, awesome for us...)!