Aspen lands stage of new Quiznos cycling event

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
during a news conference announcing the Colorado stage cities for the 2011 Quiznos Pro Challenge cycling race Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010, in Denver. (Jack Dempsey, AP Images for Quiznos)

ASPEN – Aspen will be the destination for what Mayor Mick Ireland deems the single toughest stage of the inaugural Quiznos Pro Challenge international cycling race next summer in Colorado.

The race will feature 120 riders from around the world traversing 600 miles of Colorado terrain, with a mix of mountain, sprint and downtown stages. While the exact route for the race, slated for Aug. 22-28, 2011, is still being mapped out, the race format and host cities were announced at a press conference Thursday in Denver.

The seven-stage race will start in Colorado Springs with a prologue time trial and crisscross over the Rocky Mountains before finishing in downtown Denver. The seven stages will take riders through Colorado Springs, Salida, Crested Butte, Gunnison, Aspen, Vail, Avon, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, Golden and Denver – in that order.

Ireland was on hand in Denver for Thursday’s announcement, along with representatives of the other host cities. There was so much interest from prospective host towns, the event could have been two weeks long instead of one, according to Ellen Kramer, Quiznos chief communications officer. Aspen and Ireland lobbied hard to land a stage.

That part-time Aspen resident and cycling legend Lance Armstrong was instrumental in creating the new race probably didn’t hurt Aspen’s chances. Armstrong envisioned a race that revived the legacy of the Colorado-based Coors International Bicycle Classic, which, like the Red Zinger before it, made Aspen a regular stop before it ended in 1988.

The new race is reportedly designed to be the most challenging event in U.S. cycling history, and the envisioned Gunnison-to-Aspen stage will be the most grueling ride of the event. That’s according to Ireland, an avid bicyclist who said he has ridden all of the routes envisioned by race organizers.

After the Colorado Springs time trial, stage 2 will take riders from Salida to Crested Butte. Then competitors will be shuttled to Gunnison for the ride to Aspen that involves climbing both Cottonwood and Independence passes, Ireland said.

“You’ve got two 12,000-foot climbs – it could well determine the outcome of the race,” he said.

Rolling road closures are planned to clear the race route for riders, Ireland said.

Cottonwood Pass on the Taylor Park Reservoir side is unpaved for roughly 10 miles, Ireland estimated, but is still doable on a road bike. The mayor said he has ridden it twice.

“It isn’t really steep, so it’s manageable,” he said.

After Aspen, riders will face a time trial in Vail that duplicates the old Coors Classic time trial, an Avon-to-Steamboat Springs leg, a ride from Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge, and then a final stage from Golden to Denver.

In Aspen, Ireland hopes to organize a charity ride in conjunction with the race – a downtown time trial on the closed streets before the racers arrive. Local riders could pay a fee, ride the course and get their photo taken at the finish line, he said. The mayor said he doesn’t yet have a charity in mind to receive the proceeds.

To host the race, Aspen must provide 400 lodging rooms for competitors, support staff, race officials and the media. Some number of them must be provided at no cost; others must be made available at reduced rates, Ireland said. Snowmass Village may also play a role in putting people up, he said.

The local lodging community has barely begun to discuss the arrangements, according to Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel. Some sort of revenue-sharing plan, to see that hotels providing free rooms are compensated, has been suggested, he said.

“There’s an awful lot to be figured out,” Klug said. “We’re committed to doing it. We just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”

Organizers hope the pro cycling race becomes an annual event in Colorado. Already, races are planned in 2012, when Boulder is expected to make a pitch as a host city, and in 2013.

“This event will have a profound implication for the sport of cycling,” said Steve Johnson, who, as chief executive officer of USA Cycling, is responsible for growing the sport in America.

Tim Dugan, who races for Boulder-based Team Garmin-Transitions, said he’s stoked to finally have a competition on home soil.

“A lot of the Europeans get to race in their own back yards all the time. Me, I’m from Colorado, I haven’t had that chance here until now,” he said. “I’ve spent my childhood alpine ski racing. I’ve competed in places like Aspen, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, places that are hosting the race. And I’ve spent my cycling career racing and riding on the Front Range of Colorado. So the Quiznos Pro Challenge really kind of comes full circle for me.”

Ireland said he remembers advocating a pro cycling event as a way to stimulate the local economy during his mayoral campaign last year.

“I didn’t know at the time that [Gov.] Bill Ritter and Lance Armstrong had the same idea, and were actually going to do it – just to make me look good,” he quipped.