A big, happy crowd turned out to cheer for their cycling heroes as the USA Pro Challenge cyclists took off from downtown Boulder at around 12:30 p.m. Sunday for the start of the event's seventh and final stage.
Scores of spectators, many armed with cowbells, flanked the start of the course at the intersection of 18th and Pearl streets, with a lucky few watching from business rooftops.
"It's fun to see the racers treated like celebrities," said Boulder's Darren Berns, a former racer who came to watch the start with his family. "It's a great event for Boulder because it matches the city's bike culture."
After two quick laps around downtown, the cyclists made their way south on Broadway and took a quick detour onto University Hill before continuing down Broadway onto Colo. 93. They rode through Golden on their way to the Denver finish.
In Boulder, cyclist and fan Ron Knopp said he came from Longmont to see his first Pro Challenge start.
"It's history," he said.
His wife, Nicki Knopp, added, "It's very exciting just to be in the energy of it with fellow riders who enjoy the sport."
Tony Carmeli, who lives in Coal Creek Canyon, said he and his family waited for an hour in 2012 — the last time the USA Pro Challenge was here, with riders winding through downtown Boulder twice and finishing at the top of Flagstaff Mountain — to see the racers "zoom by."
This time, hanging out at the start surrounded by fans with the opportunity to see more of the racers, was "exciting," he said.
"It's fun to get into the whole mood of the race and to be outside on such a beautiful day," he said.
Owen Sprod, a Boulder 12-year-old, rode his bike to the race with his dad to "see all the famous people" — the same ones, he said, he would otherwise only get to see if he took a trip to Europe for the Tour de France.
"It's not really something you usually get to do in your everyday life," he said.
Mindy Martin came from Fort Collins to catch the start, cheering and snapping pictures.
"There's nothing better than watching the peleton ride by," she said. "It's exhilarating."
After the pros went through, kids 12 and under got the chance to race the same course, with lots of enthusiastic fans sticking around to cheer them on. The young riders were rewarded for their hard work with ice cream after the race.
Gretchen Johnson said her daughters, 3-year-old Samantha and 6-year-old Payton, both planned to race.
"When else can you ride on closed streets in Boulder?" she asked. "We try to get out and ride a lot."
For those who want to avoid traffic delays, the road closures put in place on Saturday around the starting line at Pearl Street between 17th and 19th streets, and 18th Street between Spruce and Walnut streets, were scheduled to remain in place until 5 p.m. Sunday to accommodate breakdown efforts, race organizers said.