Editorial: Independence Pass belongs in USA Pro Challenge

Monday’s announcement that the USA Pro Challenge will return to Aspen in 2014 is exciting news on many fronts. Most importantly, it reaffirmed Aspen as one of the country’s premier cycling hubs and means that the community will get to celebrate two days of the world’s top cyclists once again.

The first stage will be a criterium through Aspen and Snowmass Village; Stage 2 will leave Aspen for Crested Butte. It’s the second stage’s course that has us concerned. Pro Challenge organizers have two options: The second stage would go to Crested Butte by way of Independence Pass, or it would take Highway 133 to McClure Pass and then Kebler Pass.

To their credit, Pro Challenge officials are concerned about having riders take Independence Pass and Cottonwood Pass to Crested Butte the day before the first mountaintop finish in the race’s history — Stage 3 will have riders start in Gunnison and finish at the base of Monarch Mountain ski area, at an elevation of 10,790 feet.

But endurance races are supposed to be demanding, and having Independence Pass included in this seven-stage event would only cement the USA Pro Challenge’s reputation as one of the most demanding cycling races in the world.

It would be a shame for America’s premier cycling race not to include Independence Pass, which has been part of the event in its first three years. In the local cycling world, it would be no different from replacing the Green Monster in Fenway Park with a chain-link fence or substituting Amen Corner at Augusta National with three miniature-golf holes.

This decision should be an easy one for Pro Challenge officials: Bring back Independence Pass for another stage. We can’t imagine the race without it.