Ski-loving Aspen celebrates its summer passion: bikes
ASPEN—The value of having the USA Pro Challenge bicycle stage race come to a town like Aspen comes in lots of ways, not all of them tangible.
Besides things like restaurant meals sold and lodging beds filled, there’s the harder-to-measure worldwide publicity that is enjoyed by this internationally known resort community. And then there’s the plain and simple fact that a city that loves biking almost as much as it loves skiing gets to see world-class racers compete locally.
“This is a big cycling town ... so I think it’s a big event for them,” Cantina restaurant general manager Antonio Alvarado said even as he wished his venue could benefit a bit more from the event.
“Any time you have almost the top level (of racers) coming through it’s very exciting,” said Hub of Aspen bike shop owner Charlie Tarver as he watched women pedal around the downtown streets of Aspen in another race Wednesday hours before the men’s race finished in town.
“We can all empathize with these guys suffering on these steep hills,” said Mike Kaplan as he joined hundreds of others in watching on a giant outdoor television screen as male racers ascended 12,000-foot Independence Pass on their way to town.
Besides being one of many local cyclists familiar with the challenges of high-elevation riding around town, Kaplan happens to be president and chief executive officer of Aspen Skiing Co. He’s thrilled that the second year of the USA Pro Challenge, a week-long stage race in Colorado, featured a return to Aspen, which this time is home not only to a finish but to a race start for today’s stage to Beaver Creek.
“It’s a great opportunity to get the name Aspen out there as a great place to recreate on a year-round basis,” Kaplan said.
He hopes it benefits hotels, restaurants and other attractions that add to the overall allure of Aspen.
Bill Tomcich, president of the Stay Aspen Snowmass central reservations agency, was likewise excited about both the short- and long-term benefits the race offers.
Tomcich said Aspen lodging was expected to be a virtual sell-out Wednesday night, “which is almost unheard of in Aspen in the middle of week in the middle of the summer.”
That compares to probably about two-thirds of rooms filling up after last year’s race finish in Aspen, although the town didn’t then have the benefit of the race starting again there the next day.
Filling some of this year’s rooms didn’t come without a price. With a more competitive bidding process among towns for this year’s race, race organizers didn’t provide any compensation the way they did last year for any rooms for people associated with the race. As a result, this year, nearly three dozen Aspen-area housing groups donated enough rooms to accommodate nearly 1,000 racers, team officials, race organizers, sponsors, media and others associated with the event.
Though the Aspen race organizing committee will defray a nominal amount of cost through fundraising, Tomcich said the donation exceeds $200,000 in value.
But in return, there’s that intangible international marketing exposure as bike fans in other countries watch racers coursing over a majestic mountain pass into Aspen.
“This event is televised all over the world. I’ve got friends in Sweden, in the (United Kingdom) who are following it right now,” Tomcich said.
“… This is the first time we’ve had any global spotlight on our destination featuring any sort of summer sport.”
At the Cantina restaurant, Alvarado also hopes for long-term benefits, but said street closures in town for the race made it hard for patrons to get to his restaurant and other downtown businesses during the day Wednesday.
He said some race organizers and others associated with the race had made reservations for that evening, and the two-day nature of this year’s race in Aspen could prove beneficial.
“We’re hoping that overall it’s going to be better overall, just with them staying” overnight, he said.
Lunchtime business at nearby New York Pizza also was less than the restaurant had hoped, which employees attributed to street closures.
But they also hoped the overnight stay, and activities including a concert at a nearby park, would mean good evening business.
“We overprepared last year. … We ordered a bunch of stuff and it wasn’t busy,” said manager Emily VanAmburgh.
Still, said counter employee Sue Lovell, “We love (the race). It brings a lot of people to town.”
Opinions were mixed Wednesday on whether the day’s race crowd was bigger than last year. One out-of-state family that was back again after seeing last year’s race hailed from New York City.
“We all like it here,” said Caleb Sussman, 12. “The first bike race I ever saw was last year (in Aspen). We had a lot of fun.”
Caleb and his brother Jamie, 8, enjoyed meeting pro racers after last year’s event.
The Sussmans come to Aspen to visit a grandfather, but have become addicted to the race. Like Kaplan and others, their father Scott watched the big television screen in amazement over how fast the pro cyclists charged up Independence Pass. But he’s also impressed with the athleticism of local cyclists he sees out on local roads, including some in their 60s and 70s. And that’s not to mention seeing Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong, a part-time Aspenite, out riding the other day.
Scott Sussman’s already hoping to return to see the race again in Aspen next year. That assumes it’s chosen as a host city again.
Tomcich, part of the local race organizing committee, said it’s safe to assume the city “would have a very strong interest in bidding again” to be involved with the race.
Tomcich also is well aware of the interest in the Grand Junction area about hosting the race, and pointed offhand that he estimates the distance between Aspen and Grand Junction to be about 130 miles.
“That distance between the two creates the opportunity for a unique stage that would pass through another popular Colorado community, which is Glenwood Springs,” he said.