Surrounded by spectators on Main Street and across rooftops downtown, Mayor Steve Skadron shot off a silent starter pistol Monday, kicking off the fourth installment of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.
Aspen City Councilwoman Ann Mullins, who lives blocks from the starting line, recalled last year’s public meeting on the race, where more than 30 people spoke in overwhelming support of the event despite impacts to local transportation and work schedules.
“Only three people had concerns or were upset, and each of those three people, incredibly, had a solution to the problem,” Mullins said. “So we didn’t have anyone that came and said, ‘It’s awful. I hate it. Get rid of it.’”
One local who’s not a fan is Larry Sands, owner of Silver Threads Optical Shop on Galena Street, which, according to him, saw zero sales last year on opening day of the race. He closed this year, with a sign out front that read: “Due to the overwhelming amount of business ‘the race’ brings to us every year, Silver Threads will be closed to ensure the safety of the staff. We apologize for any inconvenience our closure has caused. We do not assume responsibility for any other inconveniences the race has caused.”
“This is hard on businesspeople,” Sands said, adding that his wife will most likely be delayed at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport when she flies in today. “I’m not against bicycles or the race. I’m against the way it’s organized.”
In addition to tax dollars, he said businesses like his foot the bill with a loss of business.
“The city has no right to take this day away from me,” he said. “It’s a business day.”
While USA Pro Challenge officials point to last year’s 1 million spectators across Colorado and the resulting national and international media exposure, Sands’ manager Ali Hematyar questioned how much that matters for local business. Exposure from the movie “Dumb and Dumber,” he argued, has proven more important than the bike race.
“And that wasn’t even filmed here,” Hematyar said.
Chris Lanter, co-owner and executive chef at Cache Cache, said that while his sales are definitely down overall during the race’s two-day leg through Aspen, the impact on town is a positive one in the long run.
“I try to look at the big picture,” he said, adding that maybe through exposure, the restaurant will pick up additional reservations on other days — in the winter, perhaps.
In its fourth year hosting the race, he says the city is getting better about informing people of street closures. Cache Cache also has tried to be better-prepared, starting dialogue with staff Friday on ways to work around the race.
“Everybody’s cool with it,” he said.
Lindsay MacDonald, an Aspen resident on and off for the past 18 years, was snapping photos at the starting line when the race began. She was expecting her husband and 3-year-old child to be delayed at the airport, and her mother, who lives on Main Street, had trouble getting to her house. Even with that in mind, she said the race brings a lot of people and a lot of energy to town. While taking pictures, she said she saw many of her friends enjoying the experience.
“I like to look at the pros as opposed to the cons,” she said. “You can either love it or hate it if you’re a local. But hey, this is what brings people here and keeps us all running. ... It’s only a couple of days. I think we can live with it.”