Professional cycling returns to Colorado this summer with the firstannual Quiznos Pro Challenge race. Cities are already lining up to hostnext year’s stages, but there’s a growing controversy over one proposedroute.
Peoplewho want to bring the Pro Challenge to the Colorado National Monumentsay it would be a return to cycling history. This was a favorite stageof the old Coors Classic race, and the setting for the 1985 race filmAmerican Flyers.
MOVIE ANNOUNCER: "...one look at the lunar scapeof the Colorado National Monument and you know why it’s come to beknown as the Tour of the Moon..."
TR 2: Watching the movie’sfictional racers swoop along the Monument’s only road, it’s easy to seewhy the Tour of the Moon stage is a beloved route.
ANNOUNCER:"...The view and terrain are like nothing on earth with bright red rockformations, tunnels, numerous sheer cliff drop offs, and rapiddescents..."
John Hopkins wants to return that cinematic scene toreal life by bringing a stage of the Quiznos Challenge to GrandJunction next year. He's co-chairman of the local race committee.
HOPKINS:"There is a significant degree of excitement throughout the bicycleracing community about having the Colorado National Monument again."
Thatexcitement could translate into potentially thousands of spectators andhundreds of journalists, all pouring money into local hotels andrestaurants. And the pay off, Hopkins hopes, would last long after theriders cross the finish line.
HOPKINS: "We have so many nicethings for people to come here and enjoy and this would I think attractpeople’s attention and say, 'Let’s take a vacation and go to GrandJunction,' or 'Let’s go there and ride that course that we saw thosebike riders do.'"
Hopkins envisions a big economic impact forGrand Junction. But up at the Monument, Superintendent Joan Anzelmo hasher eye on some very different impacts. She says she's not worriedabout the cyclists; they’re pros...
ANZELMO: "...but you begin tomix up thousands of spectators strung across Rimrock drive at 100degree temperatures and then you’re also adding hovering helicopters andlow-flying planes that trying to jockey for the best visuals, and thatbegins to concern me."
Anzelmo denied the race committee’s firstrequest for three laps through the Monument. Later this month, she’smeeting with them discuss a scaled-back two-lap proposal. Anzelmo saysracing has changed since the Tour of the Moon days. Now there are moresupport vehicles on the roads, more aircraft in the skies.
ANZELMO:"We don’t want the birds to be disrupted as they’re fledging fromnests. We don’t want the bighorn sheep migration to be disruptedbecause there’s so much aircraft flying over head."
The ParkService has also changed since the last bike races here. Several yearsago the Service instructed park officials to put natural resources andaverage visitors first when they look at special events. Yosemiterecently said no to a similar pro bike race in California.
LeeDickinson oversees special permits for the entire Park system. She saysclosing down a monument for a race wouldn’t be fair to the other peoplewho want to visit it.
DICKINSON: "I know it sounds corny, but itmay be the only time that they’re ever going to get to be there... Foran area to be closed to a visitor to facilitate a non-public event,just does not seem appropriate."
Being the one to say no to apopular race proposal can be a lonely business. Since Anzelmo denied thefirst request, the local paper has run several editorials supportingthe race committee. Senator Mark Udall and Governor John Hickenlooperissued a letter urging the Park Service to find a way to allow therace. Even the head of the local group that runs the Monument’s bookstore says he hopes the race will happen.
All of this comes atthe exact moment that some people are trying to build support to get theMonument named a national park. Grand Junction Chamber of Commercepresident Diane Schwenke says it’s hard for people to keep the twoissues separate.
SCHWENKE: "Seeing that race being initiallyrejected because of the potential impacts on the area sort of leads usto, ‘What about some of those other community events and how will theymix with the increase in visitors and will we start to see some of thosethings that we’ve treasured in the past potentially go away in thefuture?’"
Anzelmo says there’s nothing to worry about -- therules won’t change if the Monument becomes a National Park. The manynon-profit events that currently use the Monument each year -- like Ridethe Rockies -- aren’t at risk. But she says there is something biggerat stake here -- permitting this bike race could open the door to otherprofessional sporting events in National Parks.
ANZELMO: "So whatever happens does have the potential to affect all 394 units of the National Park System."
That’ssomething both sides agree on -- that this could be a precedent-settingdecision. Whether they can agree on anything else will be the bigquestion when the Park Service and race backers meet later this month.