EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Frank Mitchell and his 11-year-old son had the TV tuned Monday to the finish of Stage 1 of the U.S. Pro Challenge cycle race. As the riders came closer to Telluride, the younger Mitchell said, "I've been there!"
Mitchell, owner of Moontime Cyclery in Edwards, said a lot of recreational cyclists or amateur racers enjoy seeing the world's best riders take on roads they ride.
"They're absolutely amazing - it's on the verge of superhuman," Mitchell said of the pro riders.
Steve Virostek, of Vail, agreed that watching the sport's top competitors is a rare treat.
"It's fascinating to see these athletes who are at the very top of their game," he said.
Virostek this year had his race-shadowing experience in France, as he and a group of friends rode a portion of the Tour de France route. Virostek said riding those roads is a bit like recreational golfers playing on courses where the pros compete.
Virostek and Mitchell have plenty of company in their enthusiasm for the Pro Challenge. While crowds in remote areas haven't been as large as they were last year, thousands of spectators have still flocked to see the cyclists fly by.
Mike Kloser has spent virtually all his adult life in cycle racing, from road courses to mountain bike trails, and rode in the original Coors Classic events in the 1980s.
Kloser and a few friends Wednesday rode much of the course over Independence Pass, to see the crowds and get in a good ride. Kloser said he mostly appreciated being able to ride the pass when it was largely free of traffic, so he could round the tight, narrow bends on the Aspen side of the pass without worrying about being waylaid by an oncoming RV.
But, he said, he's been impressed by the crowds, especially people who have come from out of state to catch the events.
"There are people who are making this their vacation," he said.
That sort of thing happens a lot in Europe, where cycle racing has long been a popular spectator sport.
Paul Hields, a native of England who now lives in the Vail Valley, has seen Euro-excitement up close and personal. He said he saw the same kind of vibe Wednesday at the top of Independence Pass that he's seen at Alpe d'Huez, the most famous climb at the Tour de France.
"It was a party," Hields said. "There was loud music, people were dancing, and there were a lot of malted beverages being enjoyed."
Hields said a friend of his from Wisconsin made the trip to Colorado this year so he and a few other people could follow this year's Pro Challenge tour, as so many do during the Tour de France.
While the above-timberline vistas on Independence Pass draw plenty of people, Mitchell said the Eagle County stage of the Pro Challenge has plenty of great places to watch, from Battle Mountain all the way to Beaver Creek.
Mitchell will be in Beaver Creek Village for the finish, and said he expects to see plenty of people along the hillsides of Village Road.
Told that some people are estimating as many as 13,000 people in the village, Mitchell guessed there might be even more people attending.
"When we had the '94 world (mountain biking championships), there ended up being three times more people than they expected," Mitchell said.
And those who come will be in a festive mood.
"I mean, how can you not have a great time?" Hields said.