Bike race plans look fairly solid |

Bike race plans look fairly solid

The city of Aspen, learning a few lessons from the way it hosted the Aug. 24 second stage of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge last year, appears to have a solid plan in place for this year’s event.

Wagner Park was a poor choice for a vendor exposition, beer garden and big-screen TV viewing in August. Weather was partly to blame, but the area was simply too far away from the action as the racers rolled down Independence Pass and wound through a few downtown streets before crossing the finish line on Main Street in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse.

This year, on Aug. 22 and 23, Aspen will be the scene of a finish and a start for two separate stages of the seven-day race. Wisely, race organizers have set the finish line for Aug. 22 in front of Paepcke Park, where the city will hold a “finish-line festival” for spectators. The starting line for the Aug. 23 stage will be on Main Street near the courthouse, where it will make more sense for fans to congregate at the planned “locals corner” at Original Curve and nearby Herron Park.

The local operating budget to host the race is $100,000 more than the $287,000 last year, which is appropriate with the addition of an extra day. The amount of money coming out of the city’s general fund, however, is not increasing – it will remain the same at $100,000. Local event organizers believe that they can sell more race sponsorships, VIP tickets and merchandise this year to cover the increased costs. This seems doable, given that the Aspen phase of the race was a modest success last year and the community is generally enthusiastic about keeping the event around.

We would like to see more events planned for the hours after the race is over. Local organizers hope to keep the party going into the evening, with live entertainment at Paepcke Park. Last year, with live music at Wagner Park ending before the riders crossed the finish line and vendors packing up quickly to move to the next destination, the hours after the race had an anticlimactic feeling.

We understand that local restaurants and businesses believe they will lose business if food and alcohol are served at the festival after the race. But if the proprietors are creative, they can figure out ways to make money off fans well into the night without forcing the closure of an overall community benefit for the sake of their regular dinner hours. What about late-night drink and dinner specials aimed at spectators? Special offerings of live music after 9 p.m.? Autograph sessions with some of the riders? Businesses should plan now for ways in which they will lure the crowds without interrupting the festival to satisfy their own desires.

City and race organizers also are planning a bigger buildup in the weeks leading up to the race. Plans call for retailers to receive officially licensed T-shirts and other merchandise a lot earlier than last year. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association will spend $50,000 toward marketing efforts. The pre-event buzz should be significantly greater than it was last year.

We also appreciate the fact that the city’s alerts concerning parking regulations and street closures won’t be as obnoxious this year. There can be little doubt that some potential fans were turned off by the barrage of information – the sentiment was, “We will certainly tow your car if you park here!” – in the days before the race. The rules should be enforced, but the message certainly ought to be toned down, with more emphasis on shuttle and parking-garage information.

Last year, Independence Pass clearly was the better place to view the race and celebrate the passion surrounding professional cycling. That might still be the case this year, but it looks as though local government officials and the business community are taking the necessary steps to improve the experience for those who choose to remain within Aspen’s city limits.

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