For the third year in a row, with cowbells and whistles sounding at the end of every 50-minute lap, the USA Pro Challenge made its case as a cornerstone of Aspen’s summer lineup.
An hour before the race, Main Street Bakery & Café, which is about 300 feet from the starting line, was buzzing with customers, most of whom were readying themselves for the spectacle.
But owner Bill Dinnsmoor said business is typically busy this time of year, with or without the Pro Challenge. If anything, he said, the race hurts business. He was also weary of street closures.
“I’ve got a lot of employees scratching their heads, wondering how they’re going to get to their second jobs” in Basalt and Carbondale, said Dinnsmoor.
Marcel Mulvany, who works at the Wild Fig on Hyman Avenue, said the Pro Challenge crowd is almost the opposite of what he sees during Food & Wine, when business “explodes.”
“I would say less business. Certainly not more,” Mulvany said of the Pro Challenge.
Mulvany took a guess that a business like Grateful Deli, which sells $8 sandwiches on Main Street, might see a jump in business from the race.
He was right: By 4 p.m., there was a sign outside the deli informing customers that the store was closed. Race spectators had cleaned them out.
Some see the Pro Challenge as a showcase for Colorado and its outdoor offerings.
Dan Grunig, director of Bicycle Colorado and a member of the advisory board that brought the race to Aspen, said the helicopter views aired on NBC in more than 200 foreign countries are “huge” for tourism.
“When people are deciding on their tourism purchases now, they’re looking for lots of different things to do,” Grunig said. “We want to go rafting, we want to go biking, we want to go golfing, we want to go hiking, and we want to go shopping. Colorado kind of highlights all of that.”
Aspen, a host to two starts and one finish this year, is “when everyone tunes in and starts paying attention,” Grunig said.
Dinnsmoor, though, worries about the financial stability of the event. Citing the failure to retain sponsorship in two previous races in Colorado — the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic (1975-79) and the Coors Classic (1980-88) — he said companies footing the bill could walk away at any moment. He also voiced concerned over the way money from the event is handled.
“I don’t have a problem with the race. I have a problem with this sort of black box, of putting money into this, and there’s no accountability of where the money goes,” he said. “Do you know where the money goes? Does anybody know where the money goes?”
State representative for District 57, Bob Rankin, was at the starting line during the race. He said it’s hard to nail down the real value of the Pro Challenge, but he thinks in the long term, it’s one of the best things Colorado can do to promote tourism.
“People hear about the mountains in Aspen and bicycling, and they’ll come here year-round because of that,” he said.
One of those spectators drawn to Aspen was 12-year-old Zane Senft, of Denver, who dressed in a chicken suit for the entirety of the sun-baked event. He said he has been to all three Pro Challenges. This year, he got to see Peter Sagan, the No. 2 rider in the world and eventual winner of the Stage 1 circuit race. Tour de France winner Chris Froome was also in the field. Senft stayed at Difficult campground with his parents on Saturday and plans on following the tour all the way back to Denver, where his family lives.
Bobbie Marshall, of Fort Worth, Texas, was in Aspen to see her niece’s husband, Craig Lewis, of Greenville, S.C., compete. She has followed Lewis all over Europe and America and said that Aspen is one of the most unique spots she’s seen.
“There’s never been a start like this. It is absolutely gorgeous,” Marshall said, pointing to Aspen Mountain and then turning her attention to Jens Voigt and the Radio Shack team as they assembled for the start of the race.
Chris Hill, of Denver, won his trip to Aspen on Facebook. For weeks, he entered his information into a contest for prizes associated with the USA Pro Challenge. The grand prize, which he pocketed, included a ride in a sponsorship car for the first lap of the race as well as hotel accommodation in Aspen.
“Great scenery, great people, great atmosphere. You can tell cycling is very big here,” Hill said as he waited for his car with a bandaged knee.
Last week in Littleton during an amateur race, he took a spill, slamming his knee into a curb and ruining a brand-new pair of shoes. More than the road-rash on his leg, he was upset about the shoes.
“Skin can heal. Shoes don’t,” he said.