Road will be shipshape for race |

Road will be shipshape for race

The surface of Highway 82 on Independence Pass and into Aspen should be in the best shape of the summer when pro cyclists hurl themselves down it at speeds in excess of 50 mph next month, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The transportation department chip sealed a 5 1/2-mile portion of the road the week of July 18, at one of the areas where speeds likely will peak during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The work was between mile markers 42 and 47.5, extending about a half mile above the winter closure gate. This includes the steep stretch above Difficult Campground, where the pro cyclists are sure to be screaming at peak speed.

The work had some local cyclists grimacing out of concern that it will create a hazard during the first pro cycling race to swing through Aspen since 1988. Chip sealing imbeds gravel chips into a tar-like coating. It initially leaves loose gravel behind and creates a squishy surface.

Never fear, said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks, noting that the agency was well aware of the race date and “absolutely” confident that the riders will have a better surface than if the work were delayed.

“It will be in very good condition,” Shanks said. Highway crews have already swept the gravel from the section once and they applied a “fog coat” that acts as a sort of sealer, she said. Between now and the race on Aug. 24, vehicles will further pack down the surface. Crews will monitor the surface and sweep gravel fragments again, if necessary, before the race, Shanks said.

Her assessment of the good surface seems spot-on: On Sunday, the gravel chips were encased in a firm, smooth surface; there was no loose gravel.

Meanwhile, crews are patching a handful of potholes that can be treacherous for cyclists. They are also repairing damaged guardrails and repainting lines.

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, an avid cyclist, said he expressed his concern about the timing of the chip seal project right after it was performed and was also assured by CDOT that the surface will be smooth come race day. If that is the case, he said, it will be a huge benefit that the transportation department addressed some problems at and above the area known as the Difficult cut.

“It was actually pretty dangerous because of all the cracks and holes,” he said.

Shanks said CDOT has undertaken projects to improve road surfaces in other areas around the state involving the race.

The Pro Cycling Challenge will take place Aug. 22-28. Stage 2 on Aug. 24 features a race from Gunnison to Aspen via Cottonwood and Independence passes, both over 12,000 feet. It’s the first pro race in the state since the Coors International Bicycle Classic folded in 1988.

There will be 128 pro riders, including Tour de France winner Cadel Evans of Australia. Full team rosters are due out next week, according to race organizers.

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