Grand Junction stage idea intrigues cyclist, race fans
ASPEN — Boulder resident Barry Eakins was happy coming to Aspen this week to watch the start of the USA Pro Challenge Monday and ride up 12,000-foot Independence Pass to watch pro cyclists ascend it today.
But he’s a little surprised the race has yet to make a stop in Grand Junction.
“I think the race should expand beyond going to Aspen and Breckenridge every year,” he said.
He enjoys going to various stages each year with his family, getting a hotel, doing some shopping and supporting local communities.
“I like the idea of spreading it around the state. If it came to Grand Junction we’d go out there for that as well,” he said.
Eakins’ sentiments were shared by several fans at Monday’s Aspen stage — not to mention by the day’s third-place finisher and Eakins’ fellow Boulderite, Kiel Reijnen.
“Absolutely,” he said when asked if he’d enjoy competing in the Grand Junction area.
Reijnen has fond memories of the Fruita area back when he began his racing career on a mountain bike in college. And he says it would be “a career highlight” if he ever got the chance to race over the Colorado National Monument, a place where he once camped, and a place where the National Park Service currently won’t allow the race to occur.
Several fans at Monday’s Aspen stage expressed a similar level of interest in seeing the race come to Grand Junction and go over the Colorado National Monument.
“It seems a bit sad really,” Australian John Adams, now teaching college in Colorado Springs, said of the Park Service policy.
“It seems like the natural choice (for a stage), doesn’t it?” added his wife, Karen, also is a college professor.
The two noted the exposure that such a stage could bring. John Adams recalls watching updates on the race while they still lived in Australia.
“The worldwide audience for this is huge,” said Karen, as the two agreed they’d happily go to Grand Junction to watch a stage if their teaching schedule allows.
So far, however, a local effort to bring the race in the Grand Junction area on routes that wouldn’t include the monument has yet to succeed.
Spectator interest Monday in the idea of a Grand Junction stage was interspersed at times with a little trepidation over the possible temperatures racers and fans might encounter.
“It’s so warm this time of year,” said Peyton Ward of Carbondale.
Nevertheless, “I’d come down there for sure” if a race stage ever were held in Grand Junction, said Ward, whose fellow Carbondale resident Chris Burgart said it wouldn’t be too much of a drive for them.
Ward is more familiar with the Grand Junction area as a top mountain biking destination, but said of the monument loop, “That’s supposed to be a great ride.”
The Park Service says the monument is intended to provide things such as solitude and wildlife habitat and the race would be incompatible with these purposes. It continues to evaluate what types of uses are appropriate for the monument, though.
“I think if it can be done responsibly, without any environmental damage, it would be great,” Eakins said.
Reijnen takes hope in the recent experience at the Tour of Utah, which went through portions of Bryce Canyon National Park and the Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
“I think that’s the start of what could be a really great relationship between the national parks and American cycling,” he said. “Assuming that they felt it went as well as we felt it did, everybody in the (racing) peloton was talking about how incredible the scenery was and we really enjoyed being there.”
The Park Service has said the Bryce and Cedar Breaks routes differed from the Colorado National Monument situation because they involved state rather than federal roads. The Bureau of Land Management manages the Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Reijnen said he understands there can be some issues of concern related to racing, such as cyclists’ habits of tossing empty water bottles.
“They asked us to be really conscientious and we tried our best and I think the fans really enjoyed the race shots from the national parks,” he said.
Carbondale resident Ward noted that protection of natural resources is a consideration on Independence Pass, where the race now goes. The U.S. Forest Service works to protect the alpine environment from camping and other spectator impacts there. Burgart said he thinks cycling enthusiasts are “pretty in tune with the carry-in, carry-out” mentality regarding handling of their trash.
“It’s not like they’re going to be throwing beer cans all over the place,” he said.
Dave Webb of Phoenix said a stage on the monument “would give it exposure. I’m sure there’s a lot of people that don’t know it exists.”
He questioned not allowing a bike race where cars already are allowed to drive.
He said he’d happily go to Grand Junction for a race, as it’s closer to Phoenix than much of the state. And he’s less concerned about the area’s August temperatures, noting that a previous stage has taken place in Montrose, which also can be hot this time of year.
Not everyone at Aspen’s race Monday could see making a trip to Grand Junction to do the same thing. Roseann Wolcott of Florida said she visits Aspen each summer.
“This was just a bonus that it was here,” but it’s not something she’d travel that far to see, she said.
Genevieve Smith, a librarian at the Pitkin County Library, sat with other locals who all said they weren’t cycling enthusiasts likely to go anywhere else to watch the race. Instead, they took in the race beneath a shade tree as one of their group wondered how much hotter they would be if they were in Grand Junction. But Smith added, “The monument would be a beautiful place” for a race.
Indeed it is, said James Raia, a California-based stringer who covers bicycling for the Associated Press and was at Monday’s race. He remembers covering the famous Tour of the Moon stage over the monument during the Coors International Bicycling Classic in the 1980s. It was a simpler time when reporters piled in the back of pickup trucks with hay bales and the only beverage organizers had to offer media was the sponsor’s product.
“Being in that part of Colorado in an open-air pickup truck, it was beautiful to see,” he said.
He thinks stages at the Tour of California are hotter than what Grand Junction has to offer, having watched cyclists endure 114-degree days in his home state.
He said this week’s race doesn’t seem to cover that much of Colorado.
“We really aren’t going too far west or too far east. It’s kind of central, so there’s a lot more to offer of the state that would be nice to see,” he said.
Reijnen said holding a race in more distant parts of Colorado is a bigger logistical challenge for riders and race organizers due to the increased travel. But he added, “I’d love to see more parts of the state.”