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January 27, 2013
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Pro cycling still finds support in valley

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - When former pro cyclist Lance Armstrong recently admitted he'd used blood doping and other methods to dominate the Tour de France, it wasn't much of a surprise. And local cycling enthusiasts say they don't expect Armstrong's revelations to have much, if any, impact when the USA Pro Challenge returns to the Vail Valley in August.

"I'm hopeful that the vast majority of riders are clean," Avon Mayor Rich Carroll said.

The pro cycling tour in August will come through Avon on its way to a tour stage finale in Beaver Creek Village. Carroll, who counts himself as a fan of the races, said he expects people to come out the way they did during the event's first two years. Both those events drew big crowds just about everywhere the racers went, even to the top of Cottonwood Pass between Crested Butte and Buena Vista.

Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet is also a cycling enthusiast. He said doping is "old news" to fans with a more-than-casual interest in the sport, likening the period to the "steroid era" in Major League Baseball, when the superhuman became almost normal.

There was a time when "riders with the best pharmacists" dominated the sport, Moffet said. Today, winners again are molded from hard work and training, he said.

The USA Pro Challenge and other cycling events are just what the valley needs to pursue in order to put people into hotels and restaurants, Moffet said, which is why he said the event is worthy of support with town funds.

"This is right in our sweet spot," Moffet said.

The Vail Valley Foundation has been the primary force behind bringing the cycling tour's stages to the Vail Valley. John Dakin, the foundation's vice president of communications said he hasn't heard any complaints about the event, before or after Armstrong's recent revelations to Oprah Winfrey - Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles last year.

"There's been no fallout of any kind," Dakin said. "You have to wonder if the majority of people weren't over the whole thing (before Armstrong talked to Winfrey)."

Part of the reason could be the excitement of the races, Dakin said - "Whether it's the time trials up Vail Pass or a finish stage in Beaver Creek, it's a spectator-friendly sport."

That was true last year in downtown Minturn, when many people waiting for the peloton to streak through town followed the racers' progress on their laptops - the race was streamed live on the Internet.

The scene in Minturn is typical of bike racing in general, Moffet said.

"Sure, people are there to see the riders, but they're also there to be part of the happening," he said.

The first two cycling challenges drew hundreds to the top of Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville, where people camped out to see the riders pass. Local hotels mostly filled up during the 2011 and 2012 challenges, and thousands of people turned out in Vail to watch the Vail Pass time trial.

Jim Popeck, owner of the Mountain Pedaler in Minturn, said he actually expects a bigger turnout for the 2013 event.

"It's bringing more attention to cycling," Popeck said.

There's a new wave of young riders who haven't been tainted by doping scandals, Popeck said, and people could be interested in those riders' stories.

Dakin said a lot of those spectators have ridden Vail Pass themselves. That's what gives bike racing "its own special brand of energy," he said.

And the ability to draw people to a place that depends on tourist dollars makes the USA Pro Challenge a prime candidate for public money, Moffet said.

"It's no different than cities that have used public money to support baseball or football teams," he said.


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The VailDaily Updated Jan 27, 2013 03:33PM Published Jan 27, 2013 03:32PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.