Excitement building for race stage in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Excitement building for race stage in Eagle County

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Minturn is gearing up for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and perhaps the biggest crowds in town since, well, maybe ever.

The pro cycling tour hits Eagle County Aug. 23, with the riders zipping down Tennessee Pass, over Battle Mountain, then down into Minturn before the stage-ending climb into Beaver Creek Village.

The event’s debut last year brought thousands of spectators to spots as remote as Cottonwood Pass between Gunnison and Buena Vista, and as many as 30,000 people were in Vail for last year’s time trial up Vail Pass. That has people in Minturn and Beaver Creek excited for big crowds, but not quite certain what the day will bring.

What Jim “The Pope” Popeck knows is the preparations and parties will last far longer than the race most spectators see. Popeck, the owner of the Mountain Pedaler in Minturn, said he’s expecting plenty of people in town, and has lined up several manufacturers for demo days when the race is going on. He’s also planning to arrive early, so he can get his own car parked.

Since the race will close down U.S. Highway 24 for a few hours, people are being encouraged to come early and stay late, or ride their bikes into town.

“We aren’t really sure what to expect, so we’re preparing for everything,” Sticky Fingers Bakery co-owner Sage Pierson said. “But it’s going to be fun.”

A few blocks to the south, Mark Tamberino, co-owner of Kirby Cosmo’s barbecue restaurant, said his crews will be in a couple of places Thursday – down near the Minturn Country Club at a “mini-market” and at the restaurant itself. Tamberino said the restaurant will open early and have plenty of specials. But there’s also going to be a band playing on Kirby’s roof, “Let It Be” style. There’s no word whether or not the group has worked up an arrangement of “Get Back.”

Tamberino, Pierson and Popeck all said town officials have been very helpful in getting ready for the party.

“It’s going to be good for everyone here,” Popeck said.

While Minturn is new to thronging crowds, Beaver Creek hosts plenty of events, winter and summer. Still, there’s some questions about just what to expect.

John Dakin of the Vail Valley Foundation said last year’s cycle race was instructive, and the foundation hosts the Birds of Prey ski races every year. Still, Dakin said this event will be something different.

“I get the sense that this is a much bigger animal (than other events),” Dakin said. “There were 30,000 people in Vail last year.”

The race stage is also going to close Village Road from Avon to Beaver Creek Village from about 2 to 5 p.m. – although the recreation path from the valley floor to the village will be open. Again, people are encouraged to come early and stay late.

Coyote Cafe general manager Buzz Busby said he’s been told that as many as 13,000 people may crowd Beaver Creek Village Thursday. If that many people show up, it will be a bigger crowd than big ski weekends – which put between 8,000 and 10,000 people in the village – and will rival the crowd size for the summer Tough Mudder adventure races.

Hotels seem to be filling up for the event, too. Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer said up-to-the-minute reservation numbers aren’t available yet, but said reservations are running “considerably ahead” of last year’s pace.

With school in session or about to be in many Colorado school districts, Romer said it’s unusual to see that kind of reservation activity in the middle of the week.

“It’s nice to have (the race) coming,” Busby said. “I’m prepared to be extra busy.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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