Pro Challenge

Professional cyclists race on city of Aspen streets during the 2014 USA Pro Challenge, which included an Aspen stage from 2011-2015. The city last month denied a request by the Colorado Classic, a newer bike race, to host a stage here.

The city of Aspen has passed on an opportunity to host a stage in August of the Colorado Classic, a professional cycling race.

After race organizers reached out to the city’s special events department, officials discussed the idea with other department heads in a meeting last month. Based on the inconvenience of hosting the event during the busy summer season, as well as costly sponsorship requirements, coupled with a lack of television-coverage exposure for the race, city department heads were not in favor of moving forward with the event.

At last Tuesday’s city council work session, special events director Nancy Lesley checked in with elected officials on the decision. She noted that the city in 2017 turned down the Colorado Classic when organizers came forward with a similar request.

“There is no support within city staff but we wanted to bring it to you and get your thoughts,” Lesley said.

The Colorado Classic is a four-day stage race that in 2018 had two stages in Denver and two stages in Vail. It is sanctioned by Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and attracts professional riders from around the world.

In its first two years, the race included a men’s and a women’s division. In 2019, it will be a women-only race, the first UCI-sanctioned race that is a stand-alone women-only event, according to its website, www.coloradoclassic.com.

“As a major sponsor instrumental in bringing pro racing back to Colorado, we are proud to support the Colorado Classic’s bold move in becoming a women’s race,” Colorado Governor-Elect Jared Polis said in a statement published on the race organization’s website.

“It’s a perfect match, as the Colorado Classic reflects what our state is known for — innovation and inclusion — while showcasing Colorado’s diverse outdoor health and wellness lifestyle.”

Aspen has a history of hosting professional cycling races, most recently from 2011 through 2015 when the city was an integral part of the USA Pro Challenge, a seven-day men’s stage race that was among the elite cycling races in the county. The 2015 event included a women’s race.

The USA Pro Challenge, which had the backing of the Schaden family, one-time owners of the Quiznos fast food restaurant chain, often included popular stages on Independence Pass. In 2013 and 2014, the race began here, with opening ceremonies in Snowmass Base Village and racers cycling on a circuit between Aspen and Snowmass Village that closed roads throughout the upper valley.

The race was popular with the valley’s many cycling fans, along with tourism boosters, thanks to thousands of spectators who came to town and millions of television viewers around the world. However, some felt that the impacts related to parking and traffic were too great, with business owners complaining that their receipts were down due to difficulties getting around town during the race.

The city subsidized the race with cash contributions for staging expenses that were between $125,000 and $215,000 each year. Numerous lodging properties also donated free or reduced-rate hotel rooms, as required by the sponsorship package, while each year came with a private fundraising effort.

The city calculated the value of the sponsorship package requested by Colorado Classic organizers for 2019 at $300,000. Race organizers didn’t present a formal request or application, but rather approached the city with an ask to see if there was any interest, according to Mitzi Rapkin, community relations director for the city.

A major factor in the city’s denial of the event was the value of the sponsorship package requested compared to the marketing exposure, and the fact that the city paid less for the USA Pro Challenge. The Colorado Classic can be viewed online, but there is no television distribution deal, Lesley said.

Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said hosting the race would be appreciated by the local cycling community; however, the lack of impressions from a national or worldwide audience would not make the hassle worthwhile, he said.

The impressions generated would be a “very small percentage relative to what we got for our quarter-million-dollar investment in the other race.”

They are asking for a lot, the mayor said, including road closures and hotel subsidies.

While Skadron said he is “flattered” that organizers sought out Aspen as a host city, “I am inclined to support staff here.”

No council members disagreed, with Ward Hauenstein saying the event “creates no win for Aspen.”

No formal route had yet been proposed, but Lesley said organizers were focused on something within the confines of the city of Aspen.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.

Editor