Carbondale soaks in the spotlight of USA Pro Challenge
CARBONDALE — Margaret Wear on Tuesday proudly donned her Coors Classic bike race T-shirt as she stood on the sidewalk in downtown Carbondale, cow bell in hand.
“It’s like having the Tour de France in your back yard,” said Wear, who has lived in Glenwood Springs since 1997. “That’s the potential of this race, I think.”
That race she spoke of was the USA Pro Challenge, which Wear and hundreds of others from around the area anxiously anticipated as riders in Stage 2 of the weeklong stage race were getting ready to make their way down Main Street and around Sopris Park on their way down Highway 133 toward Crested Butte. Tuesday’s festivities were part of the fourth-annual running of the race, but it marked the first time it had made its way through Carbondale or, for that matter, Garfield County.
And the town’s people embraced the two-plus hours they spent waiting for what amounted to 45 seconds of spectating, hoping some television air time would help promote their spot in the Colorado mountains to a nationwide audience. Dozens of children colored in the letters that spelled “CARBONDALE” on Main Street with colored chalk, with the hopes that the helicopter taking aerial shots would capture it. Adults and children alike dressed in costumes that ranged from Cookie Monster to small dragons.
Then, of course, there were the cowbells, which rang loud and proud from south Main Street to Highway 133 headed south toward Redstone. Wear brought an authentic one that came from a family ranch in Maybell.
“Watching these stages has been a blast,” said Wear, who made treks to Independence Pass and downtown Aspen to watch previous Pro Challenge stages.
The crowd dispersed quickly after the riders for teams like BMC Racing, Cannondale and Tinkoff-Saxo made their way south toward Redstone, but there was plenty to do during the waiting period. That was especially true for the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, which put in close to 100 labor hours of work to go with the more than 75 volunteers it recruited to take on various tasks throughout the town. All total, the chamber spent more than $3,000 to do their part in putting the event on, according to Andrea Stewart, the executive director of the Carbondale Chamber.
“Anything that we can do to get people out and promoting Carbondale is huge for us,” Stewart said.
Part of that is promoting businesses in town, especially the businesses that run up and down Main Street. But unlike Aspen’s business owners and managers, who in the past have privately fumed since the race cut off traffic to a town that is dependent on tourism money, Carbondale’s tune was different.
“This is a pretty cool premier event,” said Eric Mitchell, a manager at Phat Thai bar and restaurant. “In resort communities, we all have to share our space for events like this. This is for a greater cause.”
Mitchell added that he was a restaurant manager in Breckenridge when the Pro Challenge came through there, admitting that “it didn’t make a big difference one way or another” in business. Still, he liked that it brings visibility to the town.
Meanwhile, Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling noted that half of the 14 people on his staff — including himself — were on hand at the race. Schilling, along with Town Manager Jay Harrington, said they’ve been planning for the event since it was announced in May that Carbondale would be part of the route.
Harrington said the city spent around $2,000 renting barricades for the event and even considered putting a temporary jumbotron in place before realizing that the broadcast delay compared to real time would be counterproductive.
The live music on the corner of Main and Fourth streets, along with the 45 seconds of live action, wound up being enough.
“We got a lot of help putting this together,” Harrington said. “That’s good considering how big this is.”
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