Aspen will propose criterium, Indy Pass bicycle races |

Aspen will propose criterium, Indy Pass bicycle races

Cyclists round a corner onto East Cooper Avenue in Aspen in preparation for a race in the August 1985 Coors Classic. Aspen Times file

ASPEN, Colorado – The city of Aspen will propose a downtown criterium and a road race up Independence Pass in an effort to land a stage in a new Colorado bicycle race that Lance Armstrong is helping organize, according to Mayor Mick Ireland.

Armstrong and Gov. Bill Ritter announced Wednesday the creation of a new stage race called the Quizno’s Pro Challenge. It will either start or stop in Denver when it debuts in August 2011. The race will consist of seven stages at locations yet to be determined.

City of Aspen officials downloaded an application packet Thursday. It must be submitted by Sept. 10. “We were invited to apply,” Ireland noted.

Ireland, an avid cyclist, has visions of the old Coors Classic dancing in his head. That stage race made Aspen a regular stop in the 1980s. It morphed out of the Red Zinger race, which started in the 1970s. The Coors Classic died in 1988 from lack of funding.

“Coors had a crit in town then staged out the next day,” Ireland recalled.

A criterium race would feature multiple laps around a course set up on Aspen’s city streets. A current criterium race in May features a course with numerous turns, including a swooping left past the Wheeler Opera House. Ireland said a larger course would be required for the pros. He recalled that the course for the Coors Classic took the racers up toward Lift 1A before swinging them downtown.

After a night of rest, the racers in the Coors Classic headed out of town on a long stage that included the grunt up Independence Pass, then the breakneck decent on the Twin Lakes side to a finish at a point well beyond. Ireland said the city will propose that the section between the Independence Pass summit and Aspen be incorporated into a longer stage in the Quizno’s Pro Challenge, with the stage either starting or stopping in Aspen.

Ireland believes the event could benefit Aspen by attracting a bunch of curious onlookers. “If Lance was in this thing, the town would be packed,” he said.

Armstrong is a part-time Aspenite who has started participating in local races. He retired from pro racing after the Tour de France this year. He said Wednesday while announcing creation of the new race that he wasn’t certain if he will participate in its debut in 2011.

Aspen has a good chance at being selected as a host site because of its long history as a cycling mecca and its connections with Armstrong, the mayor said.

Ireland envisions cyclists riding out on Independence Pass the morning of a stage race and settling into a favorite vantage point in the spectacular setting to watch the pros.

“When I was in France [during a Tour de France] that’s what everybody did,” he said. “The Alpe d’Huez – they just have a river of cyclists,” he added, referring to a legendary mountain often incorporated into the Tour route.

Highway 82 over Independence Pass would have to be closed for part of race day, as it was during the Coors Classic.

There would be costs involved in staging the event, much like hosting World Cup ski races and the Winter X Games. The application form says host sites must commit to providing 400 hotel rooms to racers, support staff, race officials and media. The race will be held Aug. 22-28, when Aspen’s tourism is traditionally slowing and rooms would be available, Ireland said.

The investment could pay dividends. It would attract fans who might return with their bicycles for vacations in the future, Ireland said, and it would attract significant media exposure.

The race application says 120 top cyclists from at least 24 countries are expected to participate. Organizers estimated between 500,000 and 1 million spectators will watch the seven stages, with an undetermined number of fans following coverage online or on television.

“You can’t buy that kind of PR,” Ireland said.

The application packet for the Quizno’s Pro Challenge says host cities will be announced by late September.

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