Aspen’s race-scene atmosphere wins praise | AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s race-scene atmosphere wins praise

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – The rain mostly held off and the crowd swelled for Wednesday’s Stage 3 finish of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Aspen.Aspen hosted a finish for a second straight year (and hosts a start Thursday morning), improving on last year’s efforts to entertain spectators before and after the racers took center stage with a sprint to the finish line on Main Street. Organizers were pleased with this year’s changes.”We threw ourselves a challenge by moving the whole festival and the finish line, but what an improvement – having everything together,” said Nancy Leslie, the city of Aspen’s special event coordinator.The race festival was relocated to Paepcke Park, near the new finish line on Main Street, with vendors both in the park and alongside it, stretching down several streets.Last year, vendors packed up and left town by the time the inaugural Pro Cycling Challenge’s Queen Stage ended in Aspen, leaving dispersing spectators with little to do. And it was raining.Sprinkles this year never materialized into anything significant, and vendors remained open until early evening. Los Angeles-based ’70s cover band Anthem was booked to keep the festive atmosphere going over at Wagner Park, where a couple hundred people gathered shortly into the band’s set to hear hits by the likes of Queen, Kansas and the Edgar Winter Group.Well after the race finish, the park and adjacent streets where booths were located bustled with a crowd still seeking food, libations, swag and official race merchandise, among other goodies.Leslie said the crowd in town was bigger this year but offered no estimate on actual numbers.The other big improvement, she noted, were the designated spots where spectators could move across the race course winding into town. Last year, spectators found themselves stuck on one side of the orange, metal fencing or the other with no way to circulate around town. This year, various designated crossings were manned by volunteers who let people through whenever racers in one of the various competitions leading up to the main event weren’t coming through. Once the Pro Cycling Challenge racers were heading for town, the crossings were closed for the duration of the race finish.John Wilkinson, a Snowmass Village town councilman and avid biker, praised the changes as he strolled through the festival.”I really think they stepped it up,” he said. “I think they brought a lot more vitality to town. It’s a huge improvement.”Chris Hamilton, helping man a booth for the Roaring Fork Gay & Lesbian Community Fund, which sold beer and wine, reported brisk business all afternoon from a crowd that felt bigger than last year’s.He was stoked by the scene.”It’s the premier cycling event in the country, and it comes through our city,” he gushed. “The buzz is happening.”Nonprofit Bicycle Colorado’s booth was busy after the race finish. Staying open for a couple of hours after the race finish and awards ceremony was worthwhile, reported Jane Harbert, of Silverthorne. “The hour after they finished has probably been our busiest,” she said.janet@aspentimes.com