ASPEN - The Pitkin County commissioners sent a unified message Tuesday that they don't like the route options proposed for a circuit race between Aspen and Snowmass Village during the USA Pro Challenge cycling race in August.
Members of the board claimed that closing Highway 82 and various county roads in the upper valley on Aug. 19 will cause "economic disruption," safety concerns and inconvenience.
"Right now, these options don't do much for me," said commissioners Chairman George Newman. The economic disruption, in particular, is "beyond what this community can bear."
He said the city of Aspen, which is the host site for the first two stages of the race, and organizers of the race need to consider some new options that take the commissioners' concerns into account. Officials from both the city government and the event organizer attended Tuesday's commissioner meeting.
The preferred alternative would start in Aspen, exit to the west on Highway 82, swing through the roundabout, turn onto Maroon Creek Road for a short distance, cross the Tiehack pedestrian bridge, take the Owl Creek Trail to Owl Creek Road to Snowmass Village, head downvalley on Brush Creek Road, jog over to Woody Creek and then take McLain Flats Road and Cemetery Lane back to Aspen to close a 21-mile course that the world's best male racers likely would complete five times.
Commissioner Rachel Richards opposed the idea of closing both Highway 82 and McLain Flats Road.
"It's taking the safety valve away as well as the main route," she said.
Commissioner Rob Ittner, a
restaurant owner, expressed concerns that the early arrival of racers, team buses and entourages on the weekend before the start of the race could disrupt business during the end of the Aspen Music Festival season, a typically busy time. He also is concerned about the economic effect of closing the roads on a Monday.
"We can close a lot of roads and make a course work," Ittner said. "(But) does that work for everyone?
"I look at these maps (of the route proposals) and I say, 'Oh, my God, nobody can get into town.'"
Commissioner Michael Owsley said everyone from workers trying to get into Aspen and Snowmass Village to homeowners attempting to get out of their driveways will wonder why the race is disrupting their day in such a major way.
"This is a substantially different race than we experienced before," he said.
Commissioner Steve Child expressed the most support for the event. "I'm very much in favor of this bicycle race," Child said. "It will be an economic boon to businesses in Aspen and Snowmass Village."
With creativity, organizers and Aspen officials will figure out a route that works well, he said.
The Pro Cycling Challenge has traveled into Aspen each of its first two years. The first year, 2011, was somewhat disappointing because the racers finished in town after climbing the east side of Independence Pass, but the next stage started in a different town. That meant the racers, their teams and the circus that travels with the event immediately left town.
Last year was better because one stage ended in Aspen after climbing Independence Pass from the east again, but the following stage started in Aspen, with the racers climbing the west side of the pass. Race fans made a greater connection with the racers because they remained in Aspen overnight and for portions of two days.
This year, Aspen scored an even bigger prize with the overall race start. The circuit race on Aug. 19 will be followed by a stage that likely takes the racers west over Independence Pass, though no specific route has been announced.
Nancy Lesley, director of special events for the city of Aspen, told the commissioners the circuit race has the potential to draw fans the weekend before the start and keep them in Aspen for Monday and Tuesday - providing a big boost to business.
"Our goal is to hit a home run," Lesley said.
She vowed that significant public outreach will be undertaken before a route is selected. Everyone from public-safety officials to business operators to homeowners will be consulted to determine the scope of the impacts.
The city government and the race organizers must go through the county's special-events review process. They hope to meet with the public before March 12 and then submit an application to the county that will be open to additional public input. Once a route is established, city and race officials will undertake additional public outreach to make sure people understand how it will disrupt their lives.
"We understand we're going to create some pretty big impacts," she said.
But it's also a chance to shine a national and international spotlight on Aspen and Snowmass Village, she said. The circuit race will provide an opportunity to create a 21⁄2-hour "commercial" for the resorts, according to Lesley, since TV coverage will look exclusively at the area during the first stage.
The meeting ended with Newman urging Lesley to look at some additional route options - ones that don't disrupt Highway 82 as much. He suggested the race spend more time making multiple laps in either Aspen or Snowmass Village, criterium style, as part of a larger circuit. That could reduce closures on the highway and roads, he said.
The commissioners also urged city and race officials to present as many details as possible to people who will potentially be affected by the race, so the true impacts could be gauged.