Rather than beginning with a prologue, the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge starts with a 125-mile-long road stage taking off from Durango, one of the largest towns in Southwest Colorado, and descending into Telluride for a fast finish. The stage’s main attraction is Lizard Head Pass, the first real climb of the race. But because 15 miles of downhill racing separate the pass from the finish, don’t expect the race to be won on day one.
WHERE TO STAY: The key to your successful USA Pro Cycling Challenge campaign is making the most of the race—and everything else. So give yourself plenty of time before the whirlwind begins, and arrive in Durango several days early.
Durango is filled with cozy bed and breakfasts, and it has its fair share of turn-of-the-century hotels. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with any of the options. But your best bet is to camp out at the Morefield Campground, a mere four miles from the Mesa Verde National Park and an hour removed from Durango. If luxury is more your style, spend the night at the Nobody’s Inn, a boutique hotel located in historic downtown Durango.
WHAT TO DO: Visit the Mesa Verde National Park. Even if you don’t choose to camp at the Morefield Campground, the Mesa Verde offers an eye-opening look into the lives of the Pueblo people who made it their home for 700 years. They left behind over 5,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. Ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Get off, go for a hike. And then hop back on. The train has been in continuous operation for 130 years and offers incredible views with an old West charm.
WHERE TO EAT: If you’re staying in Morefield, it’s hard to beat the Metate Room Restaurant, a winner of an award in culinary excellence from the American Culinary Federation Colorado Chefs Association. For food in Durango, Ken and Sue’s (for the wine) and the Ore House (for steak and ambiance) are two must-hit spots.
HOW TO WATCH THE RACE: If you catch the start in Durango, you won’t have time to make it up Lizard Head Pass. But that’s okay. Enjoy the fanfare at the start and get ready for day two.
RACE DAY SCHEDULE: Riders sign-in at 8 a.m. and begin racing at 10 a.m. They’ll arrive in Telluride around 3:50 p.m.