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Aspen cycling events spinning their wheels?

ASPEN – Representatives of the Aspen Cycling Club bristled last night at the idea of the city taking what was once a locally oriented downtown criterium race and folding it into a heavily marketed weekend festival.

Cyclists Mike Maple and Charlie Tarver told the City Council the city’s actions threaten to ruin the event for a dedicated core of racers who have helped make the Aspen Downtown Criterium a success since 2004.

Tarver said the event already “alienates” some Aspen riders because it costs $25 to enter the criterium compared to only $5 for other cycling club events. He had trouble controlling his anger after city staff outlined a plan to the city council to beef up regional marketing for the criterium, court cycling vendors to set up booths on the Hyman Avenue Mall, add non-competitive rides for cyclists who aren’t interested in the criterium race, and eventually adding a kids bike rodeo and other family-oriented events. The Little Nell hotel was mentioned as a host site for an opening party for the event.

The criterium is held the same mid-May weekend as the Ride for the Pass, a fund-raising bike ride up Independence Pass. Proceeds help the Independence Pass Foundation in its mission to rehabilitate terrain along Highway 82, east of Aspen.

The criterium used to attract around 40 local riders. Last year, the council provided extra marketing funds and an advertising campaign attracted riders from Denver, Boulder and Utah.

“In 2009, the combined events drew a weekend crowd of almost 700 with two-thirds of the criterium participants being from out of town,” said a memo to the council from Nancy Lesley, city director of special events and marketing. “Staff believes both the Ride for the Pass and the criterium have a carrying capacity in which we are just starting to explore. The weekend itself, the Aspen Cycling Festival, has unlimited growth potential with the non-competitive rides and all of the ancillary events throughout the weekend.”

The staff’s vision to build the weekend into an event that could bring business to Aspen is at odds with the cycling club members’ desire to preserve the character of a cherished event.

Tarver said he appreciated the city’s support of the criterium in its formative years. Now, he suggested, the planning has gotten out of hand.

“This is bad for cycling,” he said. It’s been functioning well for a number of years, he said, adding: “Don’t screw it up.”

Maple suggested the city staff needed to work more closely with the cycling club on its various proposals for creating the festival. “Dance with who brung ya,” he said.

Council members agreed much more discussion is needed before turning the Ride for the Pass and criterium weekend into a broader cycling festival. Councilman Torre said he “shuddered” when it was mentioned that The Little Nell could be a opening host site.

For 2010 anyway, the event will remain a more low-key affair.

The council gave slightly more enthusiastic support to a private endeavor to create a cycling festival in late June. Craig Canon outlined his plan for the Spin Sports Festival to be held June 23-25. He envisions three days of organized rides and races for both mountain bikers and road riders.

“I’m just looking for permission. If you can make that happen, fantastic,” Canon told the council. He said he has financing and sponsors for a $325,000 budget. He floated the idea that the council could provide in-kind help by waiving the fees the event would be forced to pay.

The promoter claimed the event could spur business at a time it is desperately needed. The festival could bring up to 2,000 riders into town and generate $1.4 million in revenues for lodges, restaurants and shops, Canon said.

“This is very real, very exciting and it can take place this summer,” Canon said.

Some members of the council weren’t so sure. They gave the festival a conceptual nod of approval, but said Canon will have to face tough scrutiny in the city staff special event permitting process.

Mayor Mick Ireland was particularly concerned about Canon’s plan to send hundreds of riders up Independence Pass on one day of the festival. He was uncertain some riders would be prepared to encounter the traffic on the narrow, twisting road or be prepared for the elements on the high elevation ride. He said he needs to be convinced that Canon has a plan for the welfare of participants.

Canon has planned the event for years and submitted an application to the city and Pitkin County last year. It was turned down for reasons that Canon claimed he has addressed.

He needs a special event permit approved within the next month or so to pull it off. Council members made no promises that he will get it.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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