Colorado Classic bike race shaping up as Colorado Springs' epic summer event

By Seth Boster Updated: August 9, 2017 at 7:40 pm • Published: August 9, 2017 0

Aaron Garcia expected a long Thursday.

"We'll get business, definitely," he said Wednesday in the kitchen he manages at East Coast Restaurant and Deli in downtown Colorado Springs. "I think more than usual."

Outside, Tejon Street was transforming, bustling with uniformed people preparing the main drag for an epic event.

Cops brought out the barricades. Truck drivers brought out the beer. Night clubs brought out advertisements for entertainment. NBC crews brought out the satellites that will bring action to TV screens around the globe.

The inaugural Colorado Classic will begin here Thursday. Some of the world's top cyclists and their crews will descend upon Tejon Street, the start and finish for a race that will essentially take over downtown and the city's west side. The women are scheduled to take off at 10 a.m., followed by the men at 1:10 p.m.

They'll continue over the next three days for legs in Breckenridge and Denver as part of an event that promoters in town Wednesday said would be "like nothing seen before." Denver's RiNo Art District this week will be the site of a big-name music festival accompanying the race - a unique format that has the cycling world intrigued.

"We are so proud to be the host city of Stage 1," Mayor John Suthers said Wednesday at USA Cycling's headquarters.

The mayor, flanked by Gov. John Hickenlooper and event organizers, thanked partners and sponsors. Then he thanked residents. He offered a number they could call between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday, 719-385-INFO, connecting callers to the city's communications staff, who will answer questions related to the day's road closures.

Many downtown roads will be closed along with Tejon Street. Colorado Avenue and 30th Street are among others affected, and drivers on their way to west-side homes and businesses have been told to expect delays and detours on U.S. 24. No vehicles will be allowed in Garden of the Gods.

Disgruntled callers have frequented the mayor's office line.

They are "people who aren't cyclists or don't appreciate cycling and don't know why we would inconvenience neighborhoods for an event like this," Suthers said. "We simply need to tell them that one of the reasons why we have below national-average cost of living and tax rates is because we have an awful lot of tourists and a lot of events like this that come to our community and contribute to the tax base."

He recently had speaking engagements at two local hotels where he saw evidence of the Colorado Classic's economic impact. The rooms, he said, were filled with people here for the event - support crews, TV crews, event staff or cycling fans from afar.

And the benefits go beyond "heads in beds," said Jim Birrell, the race's director. With the competition staying in city limits, "you're not sharing the day with anybody else," he said. "It's all about Colorado Springs. And our helicopters, our cameras, they're illustrating the beauty of the city to a world audience."

The event lists Garden of the Gods, Old Colorado City and downtown as the best places to watch cyclists. Though he might not be able to park in his usual spot, Sam Eppley took a break on the eve of the race outside his Tejon Street shop, Sparrow Hawk Cookware, feeling his business was in the right place.

"It's exciting," he said. "You have a large influx of tourists and visitors and support crews. That's a new group of customers."

Kevin Knapp, president of a software company based downtown, planned to ride his bike to work Thursday. He expected his colleagues would spend "half the day watching on the street" in what the boss called a "de facto holiday."

"Getting around, yeah, I know there'll be some (complaining)," he said. "But I think we gotta look at the bigger picture. We need to recognize how big this is."

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