Independence Pass not in USA Pro Challenge plans

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

The USA Pro Challenge bike race definitely is coming back to Aspen in August, but race planners are considering omitting Independence Pass from this year’s course.

The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and the City of Aspen had their first discussions of 2014 concerning several issues with the USA Pro Challenge Bike Race during the board of county commissioners work session on Tuesday.

One area of discussion looked at the possible routes for the race. While only in the planning stages, the initial course suggestion by the event planners looked familiar on Day One, but there were major course changes on Day Two.

On the second day of competition, the proposed course would head toward Carbondale and McClure Pass, rather than Independence Pass. The popular viewing area has become a local favorite, as fans can get up close and personal to the riders as they navigate the 12,095-foot pass.

Independence Pass has been part of the race each of its first three years.

The suggested route on Day Two would now take the riders out of Aspen on Main Street, right onto Cemetery Lane and through McLain Flats. Where the course will eventually access downvalley Highway 82 is still being considered, but the course plan is to turn left at the Catherine Store and eventually access Carbondale through Main Street before turning left again onto Highway 133.

The proposed route would then go through Redstone and cross McClure Pass, heading south on 133 before veering southeast toward Paonia State Park, then crossing Kebler Pass before the stage finishes at Mount Crested Butte.

Cindy Houben, the community development director for Pitkin County, and Nancy Lesley, the director of special events and marketing for the City of Aspen, gave updates on the event planning and listened to feedback from the county commissioners.

Houben stressed that no official application has been received from the city of Aspen yet for the race, but the meeting was a chance to discuss several issues and processes while receiving feedback.

Besides the initial proposed routes for this year’s race, the discussions centered on the permitting process for the race and identifying some of the community concerns, referred to as trigger points, that the board had expressed concerns about in the past.

Also present at the meeting were representatives from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, Aspen Valley Hospital, Aspen Police Department, Roaring Fork Transit Authority and U.S. Forest Service.

“It’s critical to have all of our departments working together,” Lesley said. “To have everyone sitting at the table and looking after their own entity just insures that the event will be as successful as we can possibly make it.”

Houben added that it’s been discussed to bring representatives from the Eagle and Garfield county sheriff’s offices to be included as part of the incident management team to make for a consistent race if the second-day course ends up going through all three counties.

During prior work sessions, the commissioners identified several community concerns that now will be considered threshold issues, or trigger conditions, that, if varied, will indicate a need for further review by the commissioners before they grant final approval.

Those issues include a set route for both days, acceptable time frames for traffic delays, 100-percent access to the hospital at all times, accommodations for the airport/flying public clearly outlined in advance by July 15, as well as Pitkin County road-and-bridge work requirements for the course need to be known by July 15.

Two other trigger conditions include respect for private property along the route through development of a monitoring and cleanup program to be submitted with the application and full sign off by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office prior to final approval by the Community Development Department.

Commissioner Steve Child added several more trigger points for the county to consider.

“We need to make sure work commuters heading upvalley can get to work in a timely manner,” Child said. “We also need to look at the problems that businesses had in Aspen. Some ended up closing for the day because downtown was so clogged and people couldn’t get to their appointments or do their business, so some shut down for the day.”

Concerning the race course, the Maroon Bells parking lot had initially been suggested as the starting point for day one of the race, but that idea has been removed from the plans as per the Forest Service suggestion that the Maroon Creek Road wouldn’t be adequate to accommodate all the racers and spectator traffic.

It now looks like the Day One course will be similar to last year’s layout.

“That’s what we’re going to start really discussing and vetting,” Lesley said. “We’re going to look at where we had problems, where were the hotspots and can we overcome them? Ideally, the answer is going to be yes, because we do have history and it’s a great starting off point for us.”

The Pro Challenge returns to Aspen on Aug. 18 and 19.