Skadron: Aspen wary of larger contribution to USA Pro Challenge | AspenTimes.com

Skadron: Aspen wary of larger contribution to USA Pro Challenge

Cycling fans watch the racers in the 2015 USA Pro Challenge surge to the summit of Independence Pass.

Aspen will continue to support the USA Pro Challenge bicycle race — as long as it doesn't require more money, according to Mayor Steve Skardon.

The 5-year-old event is restructuring. The Schaden family stepped aside as financial backers Sept. 29 so that a new ownership group could take over. Pro Challenge Co-Chairman and CEO Shawn Hunter and other organizers are looking for new sponsors.

Before bowing out of the ownership, Rick Schaden told The Denver Post that the lack of a prime sponsor would require race organizers to seek more funding from the government as well as the cities and towns that benefit from the race.

Those comments prompted Skadron to write a letter to Hunter making it clear the city of Aspen cannot make a greater contribution. The city used $125,000 out of its coffers to host the race this year. Additional money was raised through local sponsorships and donated lodging.

One stage ended in Aspen after the racers crossed Independence Pass. The following day's stage launched from Aspen and sent racers back over the pass.

In prior years, Aspen hosted a circuit race that required more road closures and infrastructure. Aspen made a larger contribution of taxpayer funds in those years.

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Skadron said Thursday that the scenario of the race has changed since he wrote that letter — with the Schadens bowing out — but his position remains the same on contributions.

"The city of Aspen invests a great deal of time, effort and financial resources in the race to help ensure its success. This investment is not a small one for our community," Skadron wrote.

He later continued, "As I noted, we strongly support the event and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, I don't believe that I will be able to support this request for significant additional funding."

Hunter told The Denver Post that he and other organizers are seeking a large collection of community-based and national investors in the race rather than one primary investor. It's unclear if the plan remains to approach the communities that host races to contribute more funds.

The partners for the 2015 race included Lexus, United Healthcare, Centra Health, 1st Bank and Sierra Nevada brewery. There has never been a title sponsor in the five years of the event.

The event has evolved into a seven-stage race with a route that changes every year. Aspen has been a host city each of the five years. Independence Pass has been part of the mix for all but one of the years.

There has been a mixed reaction to the race in the community. Most cycling fans love the event because it brings established pros and up-and-comers to town. Many business owners outside the lodging industry say it does little to boost sales and, in fact, reduces business because accessibility is an issue. Proponents claim the international exposure of the event helps Aspen in the long run.

Skadron's letter to Hunter made it clear Aspen still wants to be part of the race's future.

"Thank you for bringing the USA Pro Challenge to Aspen. We're proud of our five-year run and fortunate to have built a strong partnership with your talented and professional team," the mayor wrote. "The race gets better each year."

scondon@aspentimes.com