ASPEN, Colo. (CBS4) – Some of the world’s best bicyclists encountered their biggest challenges of the USA Pro Challenge on Wednesday as they had to climb a pair of mountain passes that peak out at about 12,000 feet.

Stage 3 took riders from Gunnison to Aspen over both Cottonwood and Independence passes, but the U.S. Forest Service wanted to make sure fans didn’t camp out for a good spot on Independence Pass.

Last year spectators were allowed to camp on the pass, but after the alpine tundra there was severely damaged the Forest Service didn’t allow camping this year.

The Forest Service started with teams sweeping the mountain Tuesday evening to make sure no unregulated camping was taking place near the top of the pass. Rangers say with the short summer season more than two miles above sea level the limited vegetation is fragile.

“When they get a chance to grow we need to let them grow, and they’re pretty susceptible to being stepped on and walked on,” Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Scott Snelson told CBS4.

It certainly didn’t stop the party on the pass by the time the cyclists got there.

“We wanted to camp out and then the Forest Service said, ‘No camping up here.’ So we got the closest campground we could; wanted to respect the rules,” a spectator said.

Thousands still packed in as racers crested the mountain. One man from Belgium said the USA Pro Challenge is recognized worldwide.

“Oh, we definitely talk about the tour of Colorado like it was the Tour de France,” he said. “It’s incomparable; there are no other races like this.”

The Forest Service reported no problems and said everybody for the most part understood why they couldn’t camp.


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