ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen on Sunday afternoon was buzzing. CNN founder Ted Turner had been in town over the weekend, as had civil rights organizer Jesse Jackson and gas-and-oil entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens, all of them to speak at a festival called American Renewable Energy Days. The musician Taj Mahal performed at Paepcke Park.
But the commotion on Main Street had almost entirely to do with sweat, not intellectual heavy lifting. The USA Pro Challenge launched from Aspen on Monday with a three-lap, 66-mile race between Aspen and Snowmass Village. Booths set up in the park sold Fat Tire beer and the assorted paraphernalia that professional bicycling enthusiasts would want to buy. Around town, bicycle riders were thick.
Aspen may be a ski town, and a talk town, too. But it has also definitely become a bicycle town. The Denver Post picked up on this in its report Tuesday from Aspen. The newspaper cited anecdotal evidence, including the proliferation of businesses created directly to support bicycling.
As a result of the race, more avocational bicycle riders are now making a point of testing themselves on Independence Pass, the 3,687-metre Continental Divide crossing just east of town. "Independence has always been a proving ground for local and Colorado riders," said the Post. "Now it's internationally renowned, thanks to the Pro Challenge."
Now in its third year, the race has invaluable funding from a part-time resident of Aspen and assurances that the race will always have some Aspen connection, even if other legs of the race sometimes hit and miss other ski towns. The only other consistent stop, so far, has been Breckenridge. Riders set out from Aspen on Tuesday morning on that 203-kilometre leg, which includes two passes at or above timberline.
Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, the valley's chief reservations agency, said the event has proven to be more than a flash in a pan. Evidence is in the bookings. As the Aspen Music Festival wound down over the weekend, nearly all rooms in Aspen and Snowmass were booked. But a flurry of last-minute bookings seemed to fill up many lodges in time for the races.
"We were close to sell-out on Friday and Saturday, but to see it on Sunday and Monday was impressive," he told Mountain Town News.
In an ironic twist, the Denver Post notes that spectators at Monday's race included Lance Armstrong, a part-time resident of Aspen. "Just another spectator watching with his girlfriend" and the local sheriff, noted the Post.
As for security — there are ripples from the bombing at the Boston Marathon. The Aspen Times reports that the hundreds of volunteers in Aspen were required to undertake new training that includes how to recognize suspicious packages or people and how to report those suspicions.
The training is designed to help volunteers be "vigilant but not over-reactive," said Blair Weyer, public information officer for the Aspen Police Department. "It's kind of stemming, obviously, from the Boston Marathon events."