Tour de France perennials Levi Leipheimer, Andy and Frank Schleck, Cadel Evans and Tommy Danielson are like characters from a favorite book or movie. We cheer our heroes and hiss those who offend us. For my husband Michael’s last birthday, a friend made him a piñata effigy of Alberto Contador (who’s better at cycling than, say, humility and sportsmanship), so he could take a ceremonial whack at the guy.
When we heard that Phil and Paul, Levi, the Schleck brothers, Cadel and Tommy would all be in Crested Butte for stage one of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, we got into the spirit of things. On Monday Michael mounted bicycles over the entryway of our Old Town Inn, and in the park across the street, young friend Eli used old bedsheets to shape a giant bicyclist wearing a polka-dot “King of the Mountains” jersey.
Yesterday (race day), Michael and I scoped out the race finish area in Mt. Crested Butte. Sure enough, there stood TV guys Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin and crew, setting up on the hillside near the Three Seasons building, so they overlooked the finish line with Crested Butte Mountain rising grandly in the background. Michael took two-dozen close-up photographs to prove it was them.
Ambling spectators seeped into the nearby festival area, with Beatles music from the band Dr. Robert, a beer garden, food vendors, and booths with bike-related information and goodies. I joined the throng in front of a Jumbotron showing televised footage of the racers (who started in Salida) as they sped our direction.
That’s when it started feeling unreal: seeing the racers – our Tour de France heroes and villains – flying up our own valley, past the landmarks of our daily lives. The helicopter cameraman captured a great image of Nathan Lacy, my son’s friend, galloping his horse in the meadow alongside the zooming bikers. Then onward into town – the racers zoomed past the Old Town Inn, rounded the corner by True Value, caromed down Whiterock to First Street, sprinted down a crowd-lined Elk Avenue and flew northward on Gothic Road for the final uphill punch.
Though enthralled by watching the televised Tour de France-type action in our own haunts, I left the Jumbotron and found a perch just uphill from the finish line (on Gothic Road near the Treasury turnoff). Anticipation built among the crowd until Levi Leipheimer burst around a bend in the road and flew up the hill like he had wings instead of pedals. His grimace turned to a grin as he gave the arms-up victory salute across the finish line, just a few yards away from where I stood. The other riders poured in to wild cheering from the spectators.
Within a few hours of Levi’s victory, crews had dismantled the whole setup – barricades, tents, beer garden, signs, booths – and laden trucks were lumbering toward Aspen to set it all up again for the next day’s stage finish. We hauled ourselves home to watch replays of TV footage from the day: beautiful alpine aerial views, roaring fans on Elk Avenue, and mythical characters appearing briefly in our own backyard. Then we turned off the TV and went happily to bed.
That was fast. That was fun. And like Gil in “Midnight in Paris” when the spell wore off, I’m left realizing that, celebrities or not, life is pretty darn beautiful around here just the way it is.