Willett ignores Creed, but Pate doesn't.

"C'mon," grins Pate. "Don't you want to be a team player?"

When the meeting is over, Willett walks outside to the parking lot. In the room behind him there is silence. Then someone howls.

"I guess they're ready," says Willett.

I wonder if Creed has flushed his radio down the toilet.

In an hour, 140 miles of lactic-acid management will begin. The riders seem loose and uncaring. When I mention this to Willett, he nods.

"It's what they do every week."

I wedge myself into the Prime Alliance team vehicle, an oversize SUV stuffed to the gills with spare bikes, tires, food, and support personnel. The headset-toting Willett is at the wheel.
When the race begins just outside Boulder's city limits at 9 a.m., the riders, 107 in all, ride no faster than you and me, though they do veer off the road now and then to relieve themselves, not even bothering to clamber into the bushes.

"Guess people are a little nervous," says Willett.

As the riders begin to rise into the mountains, Willett speaks into the radio.

"Relax, relax. We're saving our sauce for later. Conserve."

"No need for them to push at the moment," Willett says to me. "It's going to be a long day."

Eventually, though, the push begins, and as it heats up beneath the cloudless Colorado sky, it becomes one of the most moving things I've seen. The riders spin. Valley floors drop away, and mountain summits are conquered - Wondervu (8,676 feet), Golden Gate Road (9,360 feet), and the peak of Oh-My-God Road (9,355 feet). The cyclists whip through church-steepled towns and tiny hamlets, spectators ringing cowbells and shouting encouragement in their stony faces.