ASPEN - Pro bicyclists will make three laps of roughly 22 miles each when this year's USA Pro Challenge begins with a circuit race looping between Aspen and Snowmass Village.
The preferred route, which Pitkin County commissioners informally endorsed Tuesday, was tweaked again Monday to minimize impacts on Highway 82 during the Aug. 19 event. Motorists and those who live along the route will endure roughly 20-minute delays while the riders and the caravan of vehicles in front and behind the racers move through, organizers estimate.
Commissioners praised the effort by race organizers to come up with a loop that largely avoids use of the highway, which serves as the Roaring Fork Valley's main traffic artery. In January, commissioners sent organizers back to the drawing board to come up with a less disruptive route.
It, along with a host of other details, will be outlined in a special-events application that is forthcoming to the county now that commissioners have agreed the circuit loop is workable.
"I think the effort to minimize the use of Highway 82 is significant," Commissioner Rachel Richards said.
"Because we had some concerns, we ended up with a better proposal than we initially got - much better," Commissioner Michael Owsley said.
Organizers actually came up with seven route alternatives, though they didn't consider all of them feasible. Commissioners wound up seeing only two in the materials distributed for Tuesday's review as the result of an email snafu, but one of the options they were presented was the favored plan after a last-minute tweak.
After some "neutral laps" in Aspen, racers will head out Main Street to Maroon Creek Road, cross the Tiehack pedestrian bridge and then follow Tiehack Road out to the highway. After a short stretch on Highway 82, riders will head up Owl Creek Road to Snowmass Village, ride back down toward the highway on Brush Creek Road but (here's the tweak) turn up into Brush Creek Village on Medicine Bow Road and then follow Upper Ranch Road. They'll parallel the highway before dropping back down to cross Highway 82 at Smith Hill Way. Then, they'll connect with McLain Flats Road and Cemetery Lane for the ride back into Aspen, looping through the West End and back onto Main Street.
It will take riders roughly 50 to 55 minutes to ride the loop once, and organizers figure that travel disruptions will occur between noon and 4 p.m. on race day.
"We weigh a lot of things when we look at these routes," said Chuck Hodge, technical director for Pro Challenge organizer Medalist Sports. Everything from television shots to spectating opportunities and the level of competition a route provides gets a look, he said.
"We've actually crafted the route to make it competitive but not wind up with competitors all over the course," he said.
Multiple state troopers will be posted at all the key intersections where the route contacts Highway 82 to control vehicle movements and let the race move through, Capt. Rich Duran, of Colorado State Patrol, said.
Emergency vehicles, including police cars, ambulances and firetrucks, will have priority, even as the race is under way, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo assured commissioners.
"We take precedence over any bicycle," he said.
Keeping the highway largely free of the bike racers was considered key for uninterrupted operation of both Aspen Valley Hospital and the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. Use of a helicopter to get aerial footage of the race from 1,000 feet up will fall under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Jim Elwood, the airport's aviation director. The federal agency will be contacted to provide its input as the Pro Challenge special-events permit application is under review, he said.
Bike-race organizers already have reached out to various homeowner associations along the route. Residents have asked questions and raised concerns - about emergency access and spectator parking, for example - but generally were receptive to having the race come through their neighborhoods, commissioners were told.
Commissioner George Newman said he was surprised the race, given the potential disruptions, was so widely embraced. It speaks to the value the community sees in hosting the event, he said.
A critical look at the route by commissioners doesn't mean the county doesn't support the Pro Challenge, Commissioner Rob Ittner said.
"It doesn't mean I don't think this bike race isn't a tremendous benefit to our community," he said. "There are concerns and that's our job, sitting at this table."
This year's third running of the USA Pro Challenge, a multistage race across Colorado, begins in Aspen. A day after the circuit race, competitors will begin Stage 2 in downtown Aspen, departing for Breckenridge via Independence Pass.
Riders and their entourages will stay in Snowmass Village this year, and race team motorhomes will be parked in Snowmass overnight, but they'll be in Aspen in the morning of both day's events, commissioners were told.