To the disappointment of some in the cycling community, the annual Aspen Cycling Criterium race will not be held in the downtown core this weekend.
Since 2004, the city has funded the event in the range of $9,000 to $12,000, depending on the length of street closures, according to Nancy Lesley, director of special events and marketing for the city of Aspen. She said participation in the criterium, which now has to compete with a popular cycling event in Boulder, has been dwindling, and it no longer makes financial sense. According to Lesley, there were a total of 29 participants last year, when racers endured snow, sleet and rain. The largest turnout came in 2009, when 159 participated across multiple criterium events. Racers would pay $20 to compete.
“If the numbers had borne out, we would have loved to have continued,” Lesley said. “It’s an exciting little event. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t make sense.”
But Erik Skarvan, owner of Sun Dog Athletics and a cycling enthusiast, said he was disappointed that a city with a $100 million budget can’t find a way to support the race, especially given the benefit of pushing cycling as the town’s summer identity.
“It’s extremely disappointing from so many angles,” said Skarvan, who volunteered for the event from 2012 to 2013. “For businesses like mine, that was a rare opportunity to make money in May. From a personal standpoint, it’s a huge loss, but what about the thousands of spectators that came out from the community, the families of racers from all over the place?”
He added that many in the cycling community share his disappointment in the city’s decision to nix the event. In the past, the criterium has been paired with Saturday’s Ride for the Pass, which makes up a weekend of activities.
Lesley said now that the Superior Morgul Classic, just outside Boulder, is scheduled for the same weekend, Aspen is unable to compete for Front Range support.
“When that happened, we saw any kind of outside participants shrink and go away,” she said. “One of the reasons we do events is to put heads in beds and showcase our community, and that reason literally went up and disappeared with this one event moving.”
Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said his understanding is that the cost of the race is too significant when considering attendance and participation as well as the legwork required to find people willing to volunteer. As far as communication goes, Skadron said he was disappointed Skarvan and the general public did not find out sooner about the race’s cancellation. He said his understanding is that Lesley conferred in the early winter with both Mike Maple, chairman of the Aspen Cycling Club, and Barb Frank, of Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, and they concurred with the discontinuation.
“Beyond that, if we were negligent in failing to send out a press release or something announcing the demise of the event, we should have done that,” Skadron said. “We have to communicate better.”
Lesley said a criterium race is a unique event, one that many won’t participate in because of the competitiveness. This year, on June 14, the city is hosting the Gran Fondo, a mass-participation bike ride, which Lesley said is a fitting replacement for the criterium.
“The Gran Fondo is an event that has greater mass appeal,” Skadron said. “And it’ll attract a greater audience, we hope, than the technical demands that the Aspen Crit(erium) did.”
Skarvan said he will be the first to volunteer his time and effort to see if the event can be resurrected next year.