Ride the Rockies rolls into Carbondale on Monday for the first time in its 27 year history, and the downvalley town is pulling out all the stops to welcome the 3,500 cyclists and support crew members on the tour.
The next morning, cyclists will make their way on the 85-mile route from Carbondale to Leadville, riding up the Rio Grande Trail, through Aspen and across Independence Pass.
“It’s a really big deal for Carbondale and we’re excited,” said Andrea Stewart, director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce.
She said that repeat visits to towns where the ride stops are common among participants, so Carbondale is hoping for a boost in future tourism based on the overnight stay.
The Denver Post, the ride’s main sponsor, also estimates each host town gets about a $250,000 influx into the local economy from rider spending.
The annual tour includes six days of riding, with this year’s route going 442 miles from Gunnison to Fort Collins — over five mountain passes and going through two national parks. This year’s overnights are in Hotchkiss, Carbondale, Leadville, Granby and Estes Park.
Because the day’s ride to Carbondale from Hotchkiss, over McClure Pass, is relatively short, at 68 miles, cyclists are expected to begin arriving in Carbondale around noon. Stewart said the early arrival is a boon for the town, because riders will get nearly a full day there.
Most cyclists will be camping at Roaring Fork High School. Upon arrival there, the town will have a local artist doing live paintings of participants and has organized a large paper-maché puppet show. That’s followed by a beer garden at Fourth Street Plaza downtown, a “Taste of Carbondale” food court, street performances, a bike parade down Main Street at 2 p.m., and live music running from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Those events are all open to the public.
Lance Luckett, a Carbondale resident and frequent Ride the Rockies participant who is riding it again this year, said he’s looking forward to showing off his hometown to his fellow riders.
“It’s just a great opportunity to see the state,” he said. “The real way to see Colorado is on a bike.”
The organizers carry participants’ gear and tents in trucks along the route, and provide hot shower trucks at each overnight stop. The popular event stops in different towns each year, and uses a lottery system to award rider spots in the popular race.
While Ride the Rockies organizers normally discourage competitive racing, they are installing temporary timers on Independence Pass, so that cyclists can time their ride up the vaunted mountain road from Aspen. Luckett said riders are looking forward to comparing their time with the professionals who will do the same ascent in August’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The pass will remain open to vehicle traffic during the ride.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, a cycling enthusiast himself, said he entered the lottery to do the ride this year, but didn’t get picked. He’s cycled Ride the Rockies, he said, about 15 times, and will join riders from Aspen to Leadville on Tuesday.
“It’s really good exposure for the overnight towns,” Ireland said.
The last time the Ride stopped for an overnight in Aspen was 2009.