Cycling races across the world are being canceled and postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Friday evening, it was easier to count the events still happening than name all those that had been suspended because of the new coronavirus.
Those events are especially important to a cycling-crazed town such as Durango with several upcoming events locally as well as many professional and junior athletes from Durango traveling to events.
USA Cycling worked to bring its athletes, coaches and staff back to the U.S. this week from international locations. However, it is not making any sweeping rules regarding cancellation of cycling events in the U.S. and is leaving those decisions up to race directors.
“Due to the wide-ranging events and jurisdictions involved, USA Cycling is not preemptively requiring the postponement or cancellation of any American events,” the nation’s governing body said in a news release. “Event organizers should work with their local government agencies and health providers to determine the risk associated with their event. USA Cycling policies and regulations never override civil laws, regulations, or policies.”
Many of Durango’s top mountain bikers – including Christopher Blevins, who won a pro men’s short-track race Friday – are at Vail Lake in Temecula, California, for International Cycling Union (UCI) points races on the same weekend the Cactus Cup in Tucson, Arizona, was canceled and the UCI announced the first World Cup mountain bike races of the year would not happen. Next week’s second US Cup stop at Bonelli Park in Sam Dimas, California, is also scheduled to continue March 20-22. That comes despite the cancellation of April’s Sea Otter Classic, which is an international trade show for the cycling industry as well as a massive race event.
“There’s bike racing going on here, and everyone is doing OK,” said Durango’s Gaige Sippy, race director of Durango’s famed Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. “It’s not a huge issue. Everyone is washing hands and all that stuff.”
Meanwhile, Durango’s 18-year-old professional World Tour road cyclist Quinn Simmons of Trek-Segafredo was sent back to the U.S. from Europe on Friday, as professional road cycling events around the continent have been largely shut down and many teams are avoiding races that are still going because of the numerous riders who were in quarantine after the UAE Tour.
Simmons started March in Belgium after some racing in France and was gearing up for the big spring classic races, especially Paris-Roubaix.
“Sad to be heading home after a long hard winter of preparation,” Simmons said in a post to Instagram. “Bummed not to get the chance to put that work on display in the classics. Had big goals but now we can just hope to be back racing soon.”
Paris-Nice is the one big stage race ongoing in Europe right now. Durango’s Sepp Kuss, a 25-year old Team Jumbo-Visma rider who is scheduled to race in this summer’s Tour de France, was slated to attend Paris-Nice, but his team pulled out ahead of the race that is now being completed without spectators.
“I was heading to the train station for Paris-Nice when I got the call that the team decided to pull out of the race,” said Kuss, who will continue to train at his new home country of Andorra for the time being. “There were not enough guarantees, more or less, about the health standards and risk of being quarantined. It’s a pretty uncertain time right now. With what we saw in the UAE and everything, I think it’s safe to not race.”
Kuss had hoped to race in the Volta a Catalunya UCI World Tour race March 23-29 in Spain, but that event has now been postponed, too.
Durango’s Howard Grotts, the 2016 U.S. mountain bike Olympian, decided to return to the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa and traveled more than a week ago to prepare for the world’s toughest mountain bike race that he and teammate Jaroslav Kulhavý of the Czech Republic won together in 2018. They had hoped to reunite and once more win the big team event considered the Tour de France of mountain biking once more. But the race was canceled Friday only two days before its scheduled start.
“I think it was the right call to cancel the race,” Grotts said. “Even before the Cape Epic was canceled, my team head decided to withdraw from the race and get everyone back home safe and sound. Gathering 2,000-plus people from all over the world in one area for eight days is not exactly a suggested thing to do right now, and it’s more important that we do our part to lessen the spread of any bacteria.
“Of course, it’s a bummer not to race, but really not that big of a deal, all things considered. And the weather looks pretty good for riding back home anyway.”
Here’s a closer look at some upcoming events of importance to the Durango area:
Squawker ClassicThe first big bike race in Durango this season is the Fort Lewis College cycling team’s Squawker Classic road races, scheduled for April 25-26. So far, no decision has been made regarding the event.
Friday, FLC’s NCAA spring sports teams were shut down for the remainder of the season, as the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference made the decision to cancel all spring sports competitions.
But FLC cycling is not an NCAA sport. However, the Skyhawks are following the lead of the entire FLC campus, which has moved all classes online until at least April 6 when students return from spring break.
The Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference has canceled the first three road races of the year.
“That leaves CU-Boulder and our race as the only ones left on the conference schedule before nationals,” said FLC cycling director Dave Hagen. “We have not done anything so far. If the college, state or county dictate what we should do, whatever it is, we will do it. But we want to have a bike race and we want college kids to come down and race their bikes, too.”
The FLC spring BMX season was already essentially canceled. Spring nationals in Albuquerque next weekend have been canceled.
USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals are scheduled for May 8-10 in Augusta, Georgia, where the famed Masters golf tournament scheduled for the second weekend of April was already postponed. Hagen hopes by May his Skyhawks will have a chance to compete for national titles.
“No matter what, kids will still ride their bikes,” Hagen said. “They’re still going to be training. They have further goals throughout the summer. Collegiate nationals is the first peak of a long season. We still have to keep hope collegiate road nationals go off in Augusta. We’ve got a heck of a team this year with experience, strength, numbers, everything. We really hope to do something special at road nats. I feel for our seniors, Tristen Musselman and Ellen Campbell. We want them to get one last shot at bringing home a road title because they’ve worked hard.”
Iron HorseNo call will be made on the 49th Iron Horse Bicycle Classic until at the end of March at the earliest, Sippy said. The IHBC, scheduled for May 22-24, mixes mountain biking, road cycling and gravel riding.
However, the 2020 Tour of the Gila, scheduled for April 29 through May 3 in Silver City, New Mexico, has already been canceled. That is a major race on the U.S. pro schedule, while the IHBC is more of a fondo-type event for thousands of citizen’s tour riders with roughly 100 pros in the field.
Also, California’s Redlands Bicycle Classic, the longest continuous running professional stage race in the U.S., canceled its 39th edition of the race Friday night. It was scheduled for April 22-26.
“We’re still nine weeks out for Iron Horse,” Sippy said. “We understand things are happening fast and everyday is a new chapter in this whole story. We don’t want to pull the plug on something that far out. If we make the decision too quickly, we might miss on our decision. We will proceed with caution.”
Sippy said a decision would be made in enough time for those with travel plans to make changes.
“We are looking at other big events around the west like the Epic Rides Whiskey Off-Road in Arizona and watching those that are a month away right now,” Sippy said. “We have a similar makeup of people at our events to what they’re doing. We aren’t an international trade show like Sea Otter. We are reluctant to do too much until we see how March plays out. If we cancel early and things improve by May with the virus, we will have prematurely made a decision that has a large economic impact on our community.”
Ride The RockiesThe 2020 Ride The Rockies Cycling Tour is scheduled to run June 14-19, with the start and finish in Durango, which will be the major hub for the event this year. That event features 2,500 participants and will also have stops in Cortez, Norwood, Ridgway and Ouray.
So far, the event is still a go.
“The Denver Post Ride The Rockies has been assessing the current COVID-19 situation with our medical director and a team of local medical and civic authorities in addition to monitoring direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Our first and foremost priority is and always will be the safety and well-being of our constituents,” tour director Deirdre Moynihan said in a news release. “In consultation with this team, at this point it is our intention to move forward with the 2020 Ride The Rockies. We will continue to meet with this dedicated team throughout the upcoming months to review all ride processes to ensure that we are doing all we can to provide a safe environment.”
Durango DevoDurango’s developmental cycling program, Durango Devo, is following along with decisions made by Durango School District 9-R regarding sports competition and practices. Devo’s current spring events have not been canceled.
“The situation is rapidly changing. Devo may need to cancel, postpone or modify Devo practices and events in the future,” Devo said in a statement to Facebook. “Notice of such changes will be given via email, and through the Devo website homepage. Unfortunately, Devo will not be able to issue any refunds for any practices of events canceled due to COVID-19. We will make every effort to reschedule any canceled practices for a later date.
“Avoid physical contact with teammates and coaches. While we all want to give our favorite Devo friend and coach a big hug after a long winter, do your best to avoid physical contact with your coaches and riding partners.”