Guest opinion: Cycling is part of Aspen’s fabric | AspenTimes.com

Guest opinion: Cycling is part of Aspen’s fabric

Erik Skarvan
Guest Commentary

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What an epic bike race we were fortunate enough to host last week in Aspen! Or should I say "host again in Aspen"? For bike geeks like me, the USA Pro Challenge was simply awesome!

For all you locals who are not bike geeks, biking and bike racing have a long and rich heritage in the valley. Bike racing in the Roaring Fork Valley actually dates back to the 1890s, when "The Aspen Boys" raced their bicycles from Basalt to Glenwood Springs. In the '60s there were organized group "cruiser rides" around town. In the early '80s, the Coors Classic bike race, a veritable tour of Colorado, showcased many of the legends of cycling speeding through downtown Aspen. In 1984, Aspenite Alexi Grewal won the gold medal in road racing at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics and became the first American ever to win gold in road cycling. Like skiing, cycling has a long and rich history here. Cycling and cycling events are part of who we are.

Fast forward to 2013 and our cycling tourism has grown, even in the face of a recession. The Denver Post had this to say on Friday: "Aspen enjoyed a huge spike in lodging occupancy, thanks largely to the first stage racing between Aspen and Snowmass. Last year, Aspen's rooms nearly sold out, with occupancy near 95 percent for the Wednesday night finish of Stage 3, while Snowmass saw only 36 percent occupancy. This year, Aspen saw equal lodging occupancy for the start of the race, while lodging occupancy in Snowmass doubled to about 74 percent for the weekend preceding the Monday start."

On Aug. 20, the Post also reported, "The 3-year-old race has elevated Aspen as a cycling destination with Independence Pass a trophy test for the thriving, Lycra-wrapped cycling tribe. Since 2011, when the world's top racers first churned over professional cycling's highest-altitude route in the debut Pro Challenge, Aspen has seen the number of visiting cyclists soar. With cameras splashing images of grueling steep climbs, curling descents and eagerly festooned hordes to fans in 200 countries, suddenly Aspen is cycling's hot spot. Everyone seemingly wants to ride the same lung-searing, thigh-crushing asphalt that challenges the world's best."

There have been numerous comments, articles and letters in the local newspapers this past week about the "stoke" around town during this year's two stages in Aspen and Snowmass. The positive energy and camaraderie were palpable. You could just see the excitement on spectators' faces. That's priceless. The large, enthusiastic crowds, both in town and out on the racecourses, were in awe of this sporting spectacle — the top cyclists in the world ripping down our streets and crushing our steepest climbs. It was nothing short of spectacular! Isn't this exactly the kind of stoke we want to promote in Aspen? We're very fortunate to have the World Cup and the Winter X Games in the winter to generate stoke and now the USA Pro Challenge in the summertime. Most resorts dream of this triple threat of world-class events, benefiting both our residents and our visitors.

With Aspen's status growing with the event organizers, our resort and community are in ideal position to build this event and benefit accordingly.

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The naysayers, a handful of locals and local business owners (and a vocal minority), have talked about the transportation inconvenience for the four hours town was in "lockdown" and the two-day loss of business. As a business owner, I could say this about a few of our major events. For example, I lose an entire week of income during Gay Ski Week, but I don't complain about it. Instead, my reaction is proactive. I try to attract that business (i.e., "Men in Tights" ad). I realize Gay Ski Week benefits many businesses and thus benefits the community. Depending on the type of event and crowd it draws, some businesses will prosper and some not so much.

To mitigate transportation hassles, we can redesign the course(s), perhaps with local cyclists' input, to avoid a complete "lockdown" of Aspen and Snowmass for four hours. We could have a different type of circuit racecourse or perhaps a mountaintop finish on Independence Pass, which would be televised in its entirety as it's at the end of the stage. At the same time, four hours out of an entire year is not a big downside when considering all the benefits of the USA Pro Challenge event.

Let's work together as a community that supports one another and sees beyond our selfish needs. Let's try to see the big picture: our tradition and identity, the huge positive energy and camaraderie, extremely valuable media exposure in more than 200 countries and the long-term investment. Let's keep growing Aspen's stature with the USA Pro Challenge and, like our other major events, keep it growing here for years to come.

"I hope this race happens for the next 100 years!" — Tejay van Garderen, Aspen, winner of the 2013 USA Pro Challenge. We hope the Pro Challenge happens for 100 more years and happens in Aspen, your new home, Tejay!

Erik Skarvan lives in Aspen and owns and operates Sun Dog Athletics.

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