– Words by Travis Dixon, photos by Angelica Dixon –
As we left Gunnison, the start of stage 3, and made our way to Monarch Pass, we were immediately reminded of what makes this race so special. The remoteness of the roads through a countryside that has more cattle than people makes for incredible racing that the fans will certainly remember, and hopefully the riders will look up every now then to enjoy it as well.
The fans here are a hearty bunch as they have to travel far distances to reach these roads, but they do it and no matter how small the town, cycling is a significant part of the culture in these parts.
For the second day we hooked up with Ryan Kost and his uncle Paul ‘Cooter’ Richkus. Ryan upgraded his whiskey to Makers Mark today and let me sample some Peruvian moonshine. Ryan described his uncle as, “A real hillbilly, he ain’t fakin’ it!”
Paul and his nephew have been coming to the race for years, and he shared his thoughts, “The thing is that when all these folks leave, there won’t be any garbage left behind. This ain’t no Nascar crowd!” They certainly helped to liven up the Monarch Pass KOM.
We set up camp two miles down the other side of the pass where the race would be coming back up to finish at Monarch Mountain, a ski resort. Monarch pass is at 11000 feet, the race would end at 10800 feet, these are altitudes that most of these riders never see at any other times of the year, and the air up here is thin.
Cars lined both sides of the road for over 2 km and with 200m to go a DJ had the crowd going for hours. Even the state troopers joined in for Cypress Hills ‘Jump’.
I spent a few minutes with Jane Aubrey, Chief Communications Officer of the Australian Drapac Professional Cycling. “This is our first time here and the end of a big block of racing in the States. The racing has been fantastic and it’s so hard here… it’s been a great learning experience and this is just the start for us. We want to be here much more in the next few years as we hope to be Australia’s next Pro-Tour team. The US is an important market for us as our principle sponsor, Drapac, is now based in Los Angeles so this is almost home.”
Colorado boy, TeeJay van Garderen of BMC, led out and held off Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo, to take the stage and GC lead.
The officials lost control as the crowds ‘invaded the pit’ to make sure that Jens remembers his final days of racing.