Local reaction to bike-race related upper valley road closures was mostly calm Monday, with creative strategies employed by airline passengers, and one false alarm on a bridge.
State troopers who were posted up at Owl Creek Road, which was as far as most upvalley-bound traffic was allowed to travel between noon and 4 p.m., said only a handful of irritated drivers had made it to them.
“Everyone waved with all five fingers,” said one trooper, who declined to be identified, referring questions to a state patrol spokesman.
However, troopers also were stationed below Smith Hill Way, informing drivers of the closure.
Trooper Graham Thorne said most people who were hung up were from out of the valley, and were planning a drive over Independence Pass.
With nearly all available state patrollers on hand from the surrounding region, Thorne said the seven-day USA Pro Challenge race is one of the agency’s biggest undertakings of the year.
“This is a world-wide event and we don’t want to screw anything up,” he said. Three years into the event, that has yet to happen — “and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
There was one incident that had the potential makings of a serious problem, but it turned out to be nothing. Around 3:15 p.m., just as cyclists were on the last half of the last lap, an Aspen police officer reported a suspicious package on the Castle Creek Bridge. This led race officials to close the bridge to all traffic and clear the spectators who were gathered for the prime viewing of racers descending and then climbing back up Power Plant Road below.
The suspicious package turned out to be a backpack that had been left unattended. After about a half hour, race officials and law enforcement determined the package was not threatening and reopened the bridge, just before the racers passed underneath.
Crowds were relatively light at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, with between 30 and 60 people in the waiting area near the cafeteria watching live music that airport staff brought in to entertain stranded travelers. Three flights arrived during the closure, with about the same number leaving.
However, not everyone at the airport was stranded. Many Aspen hotels sent shuttles to the facility before the road closure, and those vehicles were able to travel back into town after loading up incoming guests, following Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses.
“We sent our Little Nell luxury coach to help out, although we did not have any guests arriving during that time frame ... We ended up dropping guests at the Aspen Alps and other lodging in town,” hotel spokeswoman Sally Spaulding wrote in an email.
Outgoing passengers Alex and Jonathan Wells, who were scheduled to fly out at 3 p.m., might have had the most creative strategy to make the best of their long wait time. After getting dropped off at the airport before the road closed, they checked their luggage, and then walked about 15 minutes to the Maroon Creek Club, where they enjoyed a lunch by the pool. They then walked back down the side of a deserted Highway 82 before their flight.
“I think we played it about as well as we could,” Alex Wells said.
More road closures will be in effect this morning, as racers leave town en route to Breckenridge. Independence Pass will be closed from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and some downtown streets will be closed in the lead up to and following the race start at 10:10 a.m.