Like it or not, this year’s USA Pro Challenge bike race is over. The event presented a curious mix of opposition and support among valley residents and tourists. Of course visitors, who were here as followers of the race, were thrilled with the spectacular Rocky Mountain setting, and biking die-hards worked themselves into a feverish frenzy in anticipation of the big race.
At the end of the day, shutting down a city and large portion of the valley at the height of tourist season is inconvenient. It is also very tough on working people.
In tourism-based towns like Aspen, every day of summer is precious to business owners. The golden days of August are the final hours for retailers, restaurants and real estate agents to make those last big sales before the throngs of eager tourists dissipate. After Labor Day, the “buying season” shifts gears, and the city of Aspen, once again, becomes a tightknit community as it gradually unwinds into the sleepy days of offseason. The relentless roar of private-jet traffic eases, expensive rentals end, and restaurants shrink their fare to bar menus at affordable locals’ rates.
On the other side of the race argument is the passion for biking and Aspen’s love of sports. As one friend commented, “There are a heck of a lot of bikers here. Aspen has eight bike shops!” But he went on to say, “My heart goes out to the working man. They truly take a hit because of this race.” Is Aspen’s participation in this race worth it?
Michael Ireland, Aspen’s once-perennial mayor, often has been identified as the main culprit of the bike event’s enactment. Did he allow his selfish dream of a spandex-covered biking kingdom to surpass his obligation to businesses and the working resident?
Telluride, for instance, canceled the race there, citing the fact that businesses lost too much revenue and the town’s coffers doled out too much funding for the race.
Our town can relate. As one high-end Aspen jeweler lamented, “Not one single customer crossed the threshold into my store today (race day). It kills us.” A prominent doctor whose office is on Main Street and who employs six people was forced to close. It becomes an unpaid holiday for his staff and an inconvenience for patients who need to be seen by him. One of the top earthmoving companies in the valley was reduced to less than 40 percent of its normal operations, which forces it to make up the difference with overtime pay to meet deadlines promised by the end of the week. My hairdresser bemoaned the loss of an entire day of wages and tips (the salon stays open Mondays during the high season). She is a single mom who needs to cover back-to-school expenses for her children.
The city of Aspen and Pitkin County both contribute sizeable funds to enable this event to happen. In 2011, the expenses to host the race were more than $250,000, and this year’s expense is estimated to surpass $475,000. After numerous calls to city and county officials, I was unable to confirm the cost of this year’s race.
Clearly, our valley’s work force and business owners suffer greatly as a result of this event. One longtime owner of a liquor store compared the USA Pro Challenge to the World Cup and Food & Wine, acknowledging the clear difference is that, when the latter two events take place, all businesses profit and the town and transportation are not shut down.
Some favorable reports on the race experience came from my friends who reside in the Brush Creek area. As they gathered along the race route, they engaged in wonderful conversations with their neighbors, many of whom they had never met before. In Snowmass Village, excited children were said to have watched the race astride their decorated bikes, and a “positive buzz” was apparent throughout the throngs. The exhilaration felt by onlookers when the high-speed peloton whizzed by left them with an indelible memory.
Some say the event “helps put Aspen on the map.” But isn’t Aspen already well-established on the international map? World-renowned for its spectacular skiing, a cultural mecca of music, art and ideas, Aspen is hardly a forgotten city. It evokes visions of natural beauty mixed with all the glitz, glamour and materialistic goop one can fathom.
Perhaps, like a fine wine, this event will get better with age. Improved planning, fewer road closures and streamlined scheduling could make it more tolerable to the non-biking community. Many have said it’s getting better each year. However, the fact remains that to put a large dent in the pocketbook of working people can be a hard hit to take in these fragile economic times.
Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.