The pass to Aspen: 20 miles of options to watch the bike race
August 24, 2011
ASPEN – The good news for spectators at Wednesday’s stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is there’s no shortage of space along the route to catch a glimpse of the world’s top pro cyclists.
The downside: The most popular places to stake out a spot for this traveling road show are likely to be at the summit of Independence Pass and at the finish line in downtown Aspen. Anticipate crowds and, on the pass, a potentially challenging parking situation. Plus, if you drive up the pass, you’re stuck there until the gates reopen, after the racers move through. The gate on Highway 82 at the base of the pass closes at 11 a.m. on the Aspen side. Authorities don’t expect it to reopen until 4 p.m. at the earliest.
If you’ve got the legs and lungs, ride a bike up the pass. On two wheels, parking hassles are a non-issue, and bicyclists will have greater leeway to move up and down along the course when the racers aren’t present, according to race organizers. Most certainly, bicyclists will be able to cruise back down into town before motorists are able to get moving.
There is ample parking (by Independence Pass standards) at the gate and, a little lower down, just beyond the entrance to Difficult Campground. A word to the wise: If you head for the pass, think about what you’ll want with you – sunscreen, water, food, ice, extra clothes, rain gear, bags to pack out waste, and the like. The weather can change quickly at 12,095 feet (the pass summit); Wednesday’s forecast for Aspen calls for a 30 percent chance of afternoon showers and thunderstorms.
Along the pass, look for parking options near Weller Campground, the Grottos, the Braille/Discovery Trail, across from Lost Man Campground, at the ghost town of Independence, the upper Lost Man Loop trailhead and the summit, to name a few.
It’s nearly 20 miles from Aspen to the top of the pass, so there’s room for plenty of people, at least. It’s nearly 40 miles from Aspen to Twin Lakes, opening up possibilities to view the race on either side of the pass summit. On the Aspen side, racers will be screaming downhill. Pop over the summit to catch them at less-than-a-blur speeds. Remember the last four miles up the pass from the east are particularly grueling. It’s a good spot to check and see if these riders are mortal after all.
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For more flexible race viewing, find a spot along Highway 82 below the pass gate. It’s a relatively easy bike ride or walk out of town – just follow Highway 82 (East Cooper Avenue) out of Aspen to the east. The East of Aspen Trail parallels the highway almost all the way to Difficult Campground, which is not far from the gate.
Once the racers hit town, where the highway doubles as East Cooper Avenue, here’s the route they’ll follow to the finish line: west on East Cooper, north on Galena, east on Hopkins Avenue to Original Street, and north on Original, quickly rounding Original Curve in a sprint to the finish on Main Street near the historic Pitkin County Courthouse. VIP seating will take up one side of Main Street, leaving the opposite side for general spectating.
The first racers are expected to cross the line sometime between 3 and 4:30 p.m. They should look winded – they’ll have ridden 131 miles from Gunnison, over both Cottonwood and Independence passes, for a total climb of 9,746 feet.
In town, spectators can also view the action on three big screens – at Wagner Park, at Cooper and Galena, and on Mill Street near Main Street. In addition, there will be live, televised coverage on Versus from 2-4 p.m., or catch the race online at http://shacktracker.usaprocyclingchallenge.com/.