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Blending work and passions: the USA Pro Cycling Challenge

Ken DePinto | 17 Aug 2015 | Comments

Part of my job the morning of the 2014 USA Pro Cycling Challenge was to verify the closure plan for each stage of the race to ensure safety. I had been planning the detailed schedule of closures for months, coordinating between the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado State Patrol (CSP), and other race organizers. But in working the race for several years, I had learned to expect the unexpected. While we traveled down the roadway at about 30 miles per hour, an unsupervised dog—capable of wrecking the oncoming 128 cyclists—quickly darted out in front of us. Even man’s best friend can spoil the best of plans without quick action from race support personnel. We were able to quickly leash the stray dog and put it inside a vehicle in a matter of seconds and began rolling along the course again with one extra passenger.

A USA Pro Challenge competitor makes his way through Vail city streets.
A USA Pro Challenge competitor makes his way through Vail, CO city streets.

Stories like these are just part of the excitement that go along with the bicycle race that is breathing new life into the Colorado cycling scene. The unexpected must be expected to keep both spectators and competitors safe across nearly 700 miles and 7 days through the Colorado Rockies and Front Range, with the race ending in downtown Denver.

The 2015 race will be the fifth year of the men’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the first year of the women’s road biking race for Stages 5 , 6 and 7. It will also be the second year that Atkins has provided transportation planning and traffic engineering services to CDOT. The race runs through multiple communities in Colorado’s busiest tourism areas and attracts over one million spectators, generating $130 million in economic impact to the State of Colorado.

Creating a safe atmosphere by keeping the race route clear of people, cars, dogs, and spectators is the top priority. The race impacts approximately 700 road miles not including detour routes, many of which are highway miles. As CSP and CDOT are responsible for the State’s highway system, they are involved with planning closure times, providing traffic control at key locations, helping with coordination with Colorado State Patrol and local police departments, and providing travel information to the public. I’ve personally worked on the race for four of the five years the race has taken place and know that the key to a smooth race is a collaborative partnership and clear communication between race organizers, transportation agencies, and State Patrol.

Spectators during USA Pro Cycling
Spectators crowd miles and miles of highway on Rabbit Ears Pass, making clearing a safe path a priority.

For me, this project isn’t just about the work—it’s also about supporting one of my passions. I bike to work at least a few days each week, and on the weekends, I’m either training for or competing in amateur cyclocross and mountain biking competitions. But in Colorado, a passion for biking is commonplace. Denver has one of the largest trail networks in the country, with more than 850 miles of paved and off-road bike trails. And nearly 7,000 commuters ride bikes to downtown everyday, with many more using the City’s bike-sharing program.

At Atkins, our ability to provide the best transportation engineering and planning services is rooted in our passion for making the transportation systems work better for everyone. Developing the efficient transportation systems of our future means including multiple modes of transportation. It’s truly an honor to support CDOT in helping make events like the USA Pro Cycling Challenge a success. And it’s exciting to be part of something that is providing not only great entertainment and revenue for my state, but also inspiring greater interest in cycling, health, and alternative transportation options. So, if you haven’t been on your bike in a while, I’d encourage you to dust off the cobwebs, pump up the tires, and get back in the saddle. And if you live in Colorado, I’d invite you to put on your best outfit and join us on the racecourse.

Enthusiastic fans
A few enthusiastic race fans show their support for cycling.

Ken DePinto cycling
Ken DePinto mountain biking in Winter Park, CO.