Aspen hopes Independence Pass sweetens pot for bike race |

Aspen hopes Independence Pass sweetens pot for bike race

ASPEN – City officials hope to land a stage next summer in a new professional bicycle race with an aggressive proposal that would test racers’ mettle on two big mountain passes before finishing in town, Mayor Mick Ireland said Tuesday.

The stage, as proposed, would start in Gunnison and take racers over the compact but unpaved road up the west side of Cottonwood Pass, before hitting pavement on the east side on the descent to Buena Vista. Riders would travel up the Arkansas River Valley to Highway 82, whisk through Twin Lakes and climb the east side of Independence Pass before rocketing down to Aspen. Once in town, they would follow a course on downtown streets before ending on Main Street, according to Ireland.

Organizers of the new race, the Quiznos Pro Challenge, invited Aspen to submit a bid. The race is being promoted by bike racing legend and part-time Aspenite Lance Armstrong.

“The feedback we’ve got is we’re in a very good position,” Ireland told members of Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s board of directors meeting Tuesday. “We’ve got a good shot.”

After resting an evening in Aspen, the next day’s race could potentially start in Glenwood Springs, Ireland said.

Race organizers had indicated earlier that they plan to announce the stage locations by late September. The race would debut in late August 2011, before Labor Day weekend.

Aspen’s proposal had to be scaled back from what Ireland and others were originally thinking. Ireland said the race won’t linger too long at any one place because organizers want to travel throughout the mountains.

“It’s only a seven-day event and they’ve drawn a lot of good bids,” he said.

Cyclingnews reported on its website that 23 cities and towns submitted bids to host stages. The cycling publication suggested it might take organizers weeks, rather than days, to evaluate the routes.

Local government and tourism officials first looked at proposing to have a stage end in Aspen-Snowmass, then have the event spend a full day in Aspen for a criterium race on downtown streets before heading out on a third day over Independence Pass. The Aspen Skiing Co. and Stay Aspen Snowmass, the central reservations organization, helped the city prepare a bid.

The application form says host sites must commit to providing 400 hotel rooms to racers, support staff, race officials and media. Roughly 120 top cyclists from at least 24 countries are expected to participate. Organizers estimated between 500,000 and 1 million spectators will watch the seven stages, with an undetermined number of fans following coverage online or on television.

If Aspen lands a stage, it would probably be on the Thursday or thereabouts before Labor Day, according to Ireland. The city events staff is working on a plan to turn the prior weekend into a bicycle festival. One intriguing idea is to open the downtown course to recreational cyclists and let them get their picture taken beneath the race finish banner, Ireland said.

The mayor has visions of cyclists riding up Independence Pass on race day before the road is closed, lining the shoulders of their favorite part of the climb or descent and catching the action close up. He believes the pass makes Aspen a particularly attractive site for a stage for the new race.

Aspen was a regular stop in the Coors Classic bike race and its predecessor, the Red Zinger, in the 1970s and ’80s. Ireland said a lot of Aspen folks are fired up about a possible return of profession bicycle racing.

“Believe me, this is what people are talking about, not the art museum [etc.],” he said.

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