What: USA Pro Cycling Challenge
When: Aug. 19-25
Where: Various locations around Colorado
More info: usaprocyclingchallenge.com/
N ext week, Boulder rider Kiel Reijnen will join the top international professionals at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which some are calling the "Tour of Colorado."
Reijnen most recently finished third for the sprint jersey at the Tour of Utah last week and helped his team United Health Care Pro Cycling to a second-place overall finish at that same race. He won the Philly Cycling Classic earlier this summer, and finished 3rd at the 2013 USA Cycling professional road race nationals.
Reijnen talked with us about winning Philly, the bond between cyclists and his spirit animal Bear, a tiny bear figurine that rides on the handlebars of his bike during every ride.
Your most recent win was at the Philly Cycling Classic in early July. You wrote afterward in your blog that the crowds were cheering so loud at the end that you couldn't hear yourself breathe. Why is that important to you?
I think a lot of sports figures, cycling but also other sports, take for granted that we only get to do what we do because we've got fans. It's important to include and listen to them and change the sport in ways that they want to see it change and make it fun for them to watch. Because if we don't have their interest, we're nobody.
Philly is one of those races where a lot of the folks who come out to watch don't know anything about cycling, they don't care about bike racing, but they know something exciting is happening. As far as I'm concerned, that's good enough for me. Other sports, you have to go build a stadium and then the people have to come. People who are coming don't just happen upon it, they buy tickets. With cycling, you bring the race to people's front doors. In Philly, it happened to be in front of a really awesome strip of college housing.
You suffered from symptoms of a mystery virus a few years ago, where are you at with recovering?
I feel like I'm back where I belong. I was kind of near this level a couple years back and then I got really sick. I still have no idea what happened there, which is kind of a lame explanation. But I'm mostly thankful to be feeling healthy. That set me back and changed the trajectory of my career a little bit, and that still is somewhat frustrating. But everything happens for a reason. I feel like I'm where I belong right now.
You met your wife Jordan at the University of Colorado, right? What was your degree in?
I'm two classes shy of a mechanical engineering degree. I have a lab and one class left and I can't do either of them without being in school full time.
How does being on a cycling team compare to other sports?
We do fly in and out of races similar to how a basketball team flies, but something about cycling is different. It's just a rough, demanding sport -- and it's day in and day out. You go out and ride with a bunch of guys in the snow and hail and lightning. Everyone's groaning and moaning and you're sacrificing for one another. It creates this bond. The closest comparison is how people in the military bond through shared tough experiences, not to compare the two. We really put ourselves through hell and that creates this kind of friendship that I don't think you can form in other sports.
What are you looking forward to most about racing in this year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge?
It's all I've been thinking about, and all the training I'm doing right now. Each day I go out and suffer, and that's definitely for some stages that I'm looking at in the race. At the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the Aspen circuit race is going to be really gnarly -- a hardcore, cool stage that will separate a lot of guys. Then the stage that's closest to Boulder, which goes from Loveland to Fort Collins and up toward Estes Park, the climb comes pretty early so it won't determine the race. There's some harder climbs along Horsetooth Reservoir. That'll help break up the race. Hopefully it'll be a small group out of that where I can try and sprint for a stage.
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.