Carbondale to host Ride the Rockies; tour will pass through Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale to host Ride the Rockies; tour will pass through Aspen

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

CARBONDALE – A horde of more than 2,000 cyclists and hundreds of support crew will invade part of the Roaring Fork Valley Monday and Tuesday when the 27th annual Ride the Rockies rolls through.

Carbondale was selected as a host town for an overnight stop on the tour on Monday night. Riders will also pass through Aspen on Tuesday on their way from Carbondale to Leadville via Independence Pass.

Ride the Rockies begins Sunday in Gunnison with a trip to Hotchkiss. The cyclists will embark on a 68-mile hike over McClure Pass and through the Crystal River Valley to Carbondale on Monday. The designated bulk camping site is at Roaring Fork High School. Shuttles will travel from late morning into the night between the school and downtown.

As is usually the case, Carbondale is prepared to greet the gang with a party.

“We’ve been known for our block parties,” said Jeff Jackel, town recreation director. But this block party will top them all, he said.

Two blocks of downtown will be closed from about noon to 9 p.m. The Fourth Street Plaza will be center stage for a beer garden, street performers and food vendors. Two bands will play – the Starlettes from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and Big Daddy Lee and the King Bees from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

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Ride the Rockies is the latest feather in the cap of a town that’s on a roll with special events and a blossoming reputation as a hip place. The Tourism Council of Carbondale has promoted 2012 as the summer of biking. Events included a bike week last month, Ride the Rockies this month and races later in the year, noted Andrea Stewart, executive director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and organizer of the Ride the Rockies events for the town.

Stewart said Carbondale folks realize visitors to the town will want to visit Aspen and Glenwood Springs, so they try to build off that rather than fight it. “We market ourselves as base camp,” she said.

Carbondale was considered as a host town for Ride the Rockies previously, but it never worked out. “We’ve done some big PR pushes to get them to come here,” Stewart said. It paid off. Now the emphasis is highlighting the strengths of Carbondale and the surrounding area to get riders in the event to return at a later date with friends and family, Stewart said.

“The economic impact will be huge,” Jackel said. Demographics supplied by Ride the Rockies shows that 63 percent of the event’s participants have incomes of $100,000 or greater per year. Sixty-eight percent of participants are from Colorado.

Host towns typically reap retail sales of $250,000, according to organizers. Most of that comes from food sales and lodging. Bike riders on a tour aren’t in a position to do a lot of shopping, though many riders have personal sag wagons and supporters traveling with them.

The riders will face a big day after staying Carbondale. They will make their way up the Roaring Fork Valley to Aspen via the Rio Grande Trail on Tuesday, then climb 12,095-foot Independence Pass before completing the 83-mile ride to Leadville.

John Armstrong, leader ranger with the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, said he expects a staggered start from Carbondale rather than a mass departure. “People will be leaving Carbondale at 5:30 in the morning,” he said.

The Basalt Lions Club will offer a huge breakfast at the Roaring Fork High School grounds for the riders.

The Rio Grande Trail will be the designated route all the way to Aspen although 4 miles between Woody Creek and Stein Park on the fringe of Aspen is a compacted gravel surface. The rest of the trail is paved.

Armstrong said a number of safety precautions will be taken. A Colorado State Trooper will direct bike and vehicular traffic at the intersection by the Emma school house. Marshals connected to the event will be at places where the Rio Grande Trail crosses Lower and Upper River Roads.

This will be the third time in six years Ride the Rockies has used the Rio Grande Trail. The route also swung through in 2007 and 2009.

“They loved it because it’s so scenic and has separation from the motorways,” Armstrong said. “It’s something to be proud of.”

Cyclists will essentially be passing through Aspen with minimal stops. Most riders will aim to tackle Independence Pass when it’s cool and before the possibility of showers forming. Armstrong anticipates the Rio Grande Trail to be “pretty much back to normal” by 11 a.m.

Highway 82 over Independence Pass will be a route to be avoided for motorists, at least eastbound, for a good part of the day just because of the sheer volume of cyclists.

From Leadville, the ride heads to overnight stops in Granby, then through Rocky Mountain National Park to Estes Park before winding up Friday, June 15 in Fort Collins.

scondon@aspentimes.com