To the rescue — if necessary

Rescue groups, sheriff prepare for USA Pro Cycling Challenge

Crowds at the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge
photo by Doug Pensinger

Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (RMRG), the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, the Boulder Police Department and the fire departments from several local communities are coordinating rescue plans for the Boulder County portion of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which will see 126 cyclists speeding along and through Boulder’s highways and canyons on Saturday, Aug. 25.

“We’re used to dealing with a large influx of people, this is just going to be a little larger,” says Cmdr. Carey Weinheimer of the Boulder Police Department.

Race organizers have estimated the stage will draw 100,000 spectators. Most are likely to be concentrated in the area near the Pearl Street Finish Festival, which is taking place at the same time as the race and will be providing Jumbotrons showing the race as well as a real-life glimpse of riders as they sprint through town. The area of the actual race finish on Flagstaff Mountain is another place expecting large crowds. The total number of spectators is estimated to be around 30 percent larger than the average attendance at a Bolder Boulder or a large University of Colorado football game.

The police department’s preparations will be focused on staging crews around the course in order to provide emergency response quickly and without interrupting the race. They will also be ready to deal with typical summer crowd concerns like heat exhaustion and minor cuts and scrapes.

After a summer of pedaling Europe’s narrow mountain roads, Colorado’s generous roadways shouldn’t pose too much concern for cyclists.

But situations like 30,000 spectators on Flagstaff Road could generate some “smallscale Mountain Rescue” calls,” so RMRG has drafted a plan to station about 74 people from area rescue groups in eight teams around the course, from Lyons to Allenspark to Flagstaff. In addition, they will create a three-person mobile team that will follow the procession. They will also staff their own command center as well as put people at the sheriff’s office command center, says Dixon Hutchison, one of RMRG’s coordinators for the rescue operation and a 35-year member of the rescue group.

“If a rider were to fall down and go over the edge — which has not happened in any American race but did in the Giro Italia — the race people have said they have to go on. It’s ours,” Hutchison says.

That’s not expected to be an issue, though, he says.

“If somebody who had too much to drink, went 200 feet up the hillside, fell over, smacked their head, it still ought to be treated as a mountain rescue situation,” Hutchison says. “It ought to be using our gear for a safe evac, but in terms of what we have to do it’s probably going to be pretty simple and hopefully fairly quick.”

Each team will have between seven and 11 members, and an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens with it.

“All of these teams, if something happens, they’ll move,” Hutchison says. “Because it may be that one team in their place isn’t big enough to handle whatever the problem is — maybe they can handle it, maybe they can’t. So if they can’t, were going to have to adjust and we’re going to have to adjust against the traffic if the roads are all closed or there’s actually bicyclists on the roads or just maybe the road’s just been opened and it’s now a traffic jam.”

They’ve been given permission to pass the peloton if absolutely necessary, but Hutchison says that’s something they’ll avoid.

Each of the stationed teams is prepped to be ready for an evacuation — but has also been told to pack a cooler and some lawn chairs.

Meanwhile, RMRG is also planning to respond to normal rescue calls over the weekend, which could range in number.

“It’s just not very predictable,” Hutchison says.

In meetings, RMRG members are talking through potential rescue scenarios.

“If we cover 10 percent of possible scenarios, we’ll be lucky,” he says. “There’s just so many things that could happen.”