Editorial: Pro Challenge won’t be the same this year
It came as no surprise that race organizers don’t plan to include Independence Pass as part of the course for the USA Pro Challenge in August, but it is disappointing nonetheless.
On Tuesday, the first round of logistical discussions held between Aspen and Pitkin County elected officials revealed that neither Independence Pass nor the Maroon Bells are being considered for the cycling race, which has been growing in popularity since its debut in 2011.
While it’s a shame that two of the Aspen area’s most visited and scenic locations likely won’t be part of the Pro Challenge — though the course planning is still in the conceptual stages — it’s also understandable.
The potential environmental impacts by starting a stage at the Maroon Bells are legitimate, and part of that area’s charm is that it is traditionally off-limits to major productions like a world-class bicycle race.
But the absence of Independence Pass, a spectator favorite in the three previous Pro Challenges, is more difficult to accept.
We understand race officials’ concerns about having cyclists take the grueling ride up 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.
Even so, if the Pro Challenge passes on the pass, as it appears poised to do, the race just won’t seem the same, at least from an Aspen point-of-view. It’s like the Tour de France without the Alpe d’Huez. It’s still a classic race but missing a little luster.
Saying that, we expect Aspen cycling fans will make the most of the Pro Challenge’s two days here Aug. 18 and 19. While the courses will be different, one of Aspen’s biggest parties of the year must go on.
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