ASPEN - City officials on Tuesday tried to alleviate Pitkin County's numerous concerns about the proposed routes for a planned circuit competition that kicks off the USA Pro Challenge cycling race in August.
During a joint work session at Aspen City Hall, county commissioners alleged that closing Highway 82 and other county roads for the Aug. 19 circuit race - in which riders would loop multiple times between Aspen and Snowmass Village - carries the potential for disruptions in emergency services and the local economy. They repeated some of the same arguments Tuesday that they voiced during their own meeting in the county building on Jan. 22.
For example, Commissioner Rob Ittner pointed out that the bike race begins the day after the Aspen Music Festival ends, which could mean issues for people who need to use the highway to get to the airport or to leave the upper Roaring Fork Valley by vehicle. Also, businesses need to know what's going to happen with road closures and pre-race activities sooner rather than later, he suggested, as it helps them prepare in case they want to capitalize on the race or close for the day.
Commissioner Steve Child said the proposed closures affect "dozens and dozens" of driveways and access points, while Commissioner George Newman reiterated his belief that the circuit race will have a major impact on the economy because workers will have trouble getting around the area that Monday.
"I have suggested some different routes," Newman said. "I think there are ways to pull off a successful race, to minimize the impacts to our entire community as well as our guests. There are guests that come here that will be perhaps put off by all of these impacts when they just want to come up to Aspen/Snowmass for a great family vacation, and all of a sudden they're in the midst of a huge bike race, and roads are closed off, and you can't get anywhere."
He added that the city and bike-race organizers should take a hard look at alternate routes "that won't impact Highway 82 or the roundabout."
The preferred circuit-race route 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 and then head downvalley on Brush Creek Road. It then would travel 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.
Nancy Lesley, the city's special-events director, told council members and commissioners that she's provided alternate routes to race organizers and is waiting to hear back from them. An outreach effort is under way to provide information to and garner input from residents and others who would be affected by the road closures, and plans are in the works among various local agencies to ensure no adverse impacts to emergency services.
Councilman Derek Johnson said he believes all of the issues can be worked out to ensure success for the professional cycling race's third consecutive year in Aspen.
"In the first year, we got ahead of ourselves and practically shut down the town," he said, referring to a massive informational campaign that discouraged visitors from driving to Aspen for the race while encouraging out-of-towners to take shuttles from mid- and downvalley locations.
"Then the second year, we loosened it up and let people know that they could drive," Johnson said. "With enough time, we can figure this out. Other communities have figured this out. Personally, I think we need to be a little more supportive and positive about trying to find these alternatives and addressing these issues. I hope we can do that and work together ... to inform the community about what our options are and to hold another world-class event."
The county's special-events review process will come into play later this year. City officials and race organizers will submit an application, which will be open to public comment, to the county. Once a route is established, organizers will have to conduct even more public outreach to make sure residents understand how the event and its route will affect them.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said county officials are addressing the unanswered questions surrounding the race now so that the commission doesn't end up having to play a spoiler role later.
"If a lot of work and time gets invested in just one route, and then it gets to the special-event permit final hearing, it could be declined," she said. "It's not a given. The concerns the board members have expressed about inconvenience to people's lives and the larger disruption of coming into Aspen (from the west) is just an entirely different thing than coming into Aspen from Independence Pass."
The USA Pro Challenge, formerly known as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, has traveled into Aspen in each of its first two years. In 2011, during the second stage of the eight-day event, racers came to Aspen after climbing the east side of Independence Pass. The third stage began in a different town.
Last year, one stage ended in Aspen after riders climbed Independence Pass from the east again, but the next day's stage started in Aspen, with the racers climbing the west side of the pass.
This year, Aspen has garnered the overall race start. The circuit race on Aug. 19 will be followed by an Aug. 20 stage that likely will take the racers west over the pass from Aspen.