“Every stone that needs to be turned has been turned”
As we head into the shoulder season and the amount of visitors to Crested Butte decreases, the valley could see a bump—a serious bump—in numbers on Tuesday, August 23. That’s when the USA Pro Cycling Challenge hits the valley. Estimates for the amount of people expected for the event range from 1,000 to more than 30,000. Being a first-year event, it is anybody’s guess at the moment.
Now, you would think that another bike event coming to town—just more dudes on bikes—wouldn’t be a big deal, right? Crested Butte has seen that all summer, with Ride the Rockies and the Alpine Odyssey.
Not quite. This peloton, which will include every rider who stood on the final podium of this year’s Tour de France, will arrive in style. It will be led by five Colorado State Patrol Cars and several other lead vehicles. Another 120 team vehicles will follow, and the entire entourage will be covered by live television crews, some in helicopters. And when the show reaches Almont? Every road in Crested Butte—including the racecourse along Highway 135—will close.
The only way anyone is missing out on this kind of action is by heading into the backcountry. It’s taken the work of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, the Tourism Association and a host of unnamed and under-recognized people to make this thing happen. And while no one knows exactly how many spectators to expect, one thing is for sure: the north end of the valley is ready.
“We feel we’ve done a good job getting the word out. We’re ready to open the doors,” said LOC co-chair Aaron Huckstep. “We just don’t know how many people are going to come.”
The stage stats speak for themselves: It’s the first-stage finish in the highest altitude course ever created. Racers will tackle 8,000 feet of vertical climbing to get here from Salida over Monarch Pass, and then grind up the only uphill finish in the race. When they make it to the finish, they’ll find 365-degree views of some of Colorado’s finest country.
Organizers hope that will be enough to draw spectators from across the Western Slope, where they’ve been making a final advertising push this week. The only trick—it’s difficult to project actual numbers.
Anecdotally, Huckstep said, on a weekend trip to the Leadville 100 he ran into several riders who visited Crested Butte for the Alpine Odyssey and were making plans to return for the UPCC. On Monday, August 15, a picture of Crested Butte was featured on the home page of VeloNews with a caption that read “Hey, Colorado: Where to Watch the USA Pro-cycling Challenge.” And Wanda Berth of Crested Butte Property Management says she’s seen a definite increase in business over this time last year.
“I’m at about 50 percent occupancy for the race but that’s probably six times what I had last year at the same time,” Berth said. Inns around town have reported similar bumps in reservations, and while the uptick in visitors is a positive sign, organizers urge the towns to remember that this race will likely impact Crested Butte in ways that go beyond race day.
“Managing people’s expectations is one challenge. It is the first year of the event so it is unpredictable,” Tourism Association executive director Jane Chaney said. “But the residual benefit is important. The national and international coverage is immeasurable but will have an impact for years. It’s not just about the immediate sales tax numbers.”
One immediate thing to be aware of is safety. “In Crested Butte the bikers will be coming in at very high speeds and they’ll be followed by cars traveling at very high speeds. They could be as fast as 50 miles per hour,” explained Crested Butte Chief Marshal Tom Martin. “Not all of the race route will have barricades so it is very important to stay out of the streets and keep your dogs and kids away from the course. Once the bike racers go by, be aware that a lot of cars will be following the peloton. We have approximately 130 bikers and 140 cars could be traveling at speeds of 35 to 50 miles per hour. We won’t be ticketing them in our 15 miles per hour zones—so be very, very careful.
“There will be complete street closures approximately 30 minutes before the racer’s arrival. The town will be completely shut down to vehicle traffic,” continued Martin. “We anticipate this to be between 3 and 3:30. Don’t enter or even lean out into the street where the bike route is running. Please respect the volunteers and when they say it is closed, we mean it is really closed. Expect additional closures and detours all day. It’s all about safety.”
In addition to unprecedented media coverage for the valley, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge has a five-year contract with Colorado. According to Huckstep, the LOC has been told that alumni cities (towns that have already hosted the race) will be favored in future races. And while there’s no way to guarantee the race will return, Huckstep believes that Crested Butte’s central location between places like Denver and Grand Junction put the valley in a good place to host the race again. The LOC, he says, will submit a proposal for next year’s race in September.
So whether the race draws Fourth of July crowds or more, this Tuesday will be a chance to showcase Crested Butte as a vacation destination and a reliable and professional host town. Pulling off an entire day of road closures (see page 29) and race logistics on top of throwing a party Crested Butte style—complete with a Townie Crit, sanctioned hand-cycling event, Strider cup and festival on the mountain—will have immeasurable impacts. It’s just taken an unprecedented amount of work and cooperation among valley partners.
“It’s a big show coming to town. As far as we know, every stone that needs to be turned for this event has been turned,” said Jake Jones, Crested Butte Parks and Recreation manager. “A lot of people have put a lot of work into this. We are in as good a position as we can possibly be.”
And according to Gunnison County public works director Marlene Crosby, crews have been out all week doing some heavy maintenance on Taylor River Road and Cottonwood Pass. They’ve been fixing soft spots, applying mag chloride and brooming the road to clear it of rocks and keep it smooth.
“We want to present a road that is safe and in good condition, and we’re excited to show off our work,” Crosby said.
Efforts, it seems, are paying off. Crested Butte is already getting kudos for the work its residents have put into the race.
“The State Patrol told us that this is the leg of the tour they are least worried about. They said we are the best organized leg of the race,” said Crested Butte public works director Rodney Due.
It all culminates Tuesday and Wednesday, so get out there and cheer on these world-class racers.
For more information on the race, please see The Weekly section of the Crested Butte News.