Aspen Cycling Festival criterium guarantees speed, excitement |

Aspen Cycling Festival criterium guarantees speed, excitement

Michael Appelgate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoCompetitors speed through the downtown core during last year's Aspen Criterium.

ASPEN – Aspen and biking is nearly synonomous. On the heels of National Bike to Work Week, the Aspen Cycling Festival will bring even more bikes to the streets.

For the seventh year, the festival’s signature criterium will speed through downtown Aspen on Sunday. Today, the Ride for the Pass will ascend Independence Pass for roughly 2,500 feet beginning at the winter gate, 4 miles east of Aspen, and ending 10 miles later at the ghost town of Independence.

The charity race/ride, now in its 18th year, is a fundraiser for the Independence Pass Foundation. The event usually takes place before the Pass being opened to traffic, but since it opened early this year, the Colorado Department of Transportation temporarily is closing the road to allow the event to continue.

The 0.8-mile criterium route will remain in its traditional 10-corner route, but with a slight twist: The course will be reversed. The race will begin at the intersection of Monarch Street and Hyman Avenue, then turn onto Aspen Street. Racers will make four quick turns: down Garmisch Street to Cooper Avenue, and then on to First Street before turning onto Hyman. Riders then will turn onto Main Street via Aspen Street and end up at the starting line after making two tight right turns.

“I want to say this will be the third year that we will actually go this direction,” said Nancy Lesley, director of special events for Aspen. “The corner by (the) Wheeler (Opera House) has always been exciting because it had a lot of potential for crashes. To alleviate some of that potential, we reversed it.”

Lesley said this event is one of the more strategic races USA Cycling offers. Because of the 10-corner route, instead of the typical four-corner criterium, packs of riders are expected to form.

“I wouldn’t call it a dangerous course,” Lesley said. “There are some uphills and flats, and it’s important that they work as teams. As an individual, it’s more difficult.”

The race is sanctioned by USA Cycling and awards its winners with payouts. More than $3,000 total will be awarded for podium finishes. Each payout varies as categories increase in difficulty.

The criterium was sanctioned five years ago, according to Lesley.

“It’s evolved,” she added. “When we first started this, it was apart of the Aspen Cycling Club calendar. Now that we’ve sanctioned it, the event popularity has certainly grown.”

Lesley estimated that the race was 90 percent local in its early years. Now, the participants are fairly split with out-of-state cyclists spending the weekend in Aspen.

“We’re right there in downtown Aspen,” Lesley said. “We’re going by the iconic Wheeler Opera House, and everything you think about in Aspen, the route shows it off.”

Lesley said there really aren’t any bad places to view the competition. She predicts that the finish line and the corner by the Wheeler will be excellent spots.

“Whether you are a rider or not, this is an exciting weekend,” Lesley said.

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