Bob Timmons, Star Tribune Published 8:54 a.m. CT April 11, 2020
Whether rolling over asphalt, dirt trails or gravel roads, the vast Minnesota cycling community has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of annual races, clinics and social rides this spring are shelved.
Normally the Minnesota Cycling Federation would be buzzing about the popular, decades-old criterium racing series Tuesday nights at Machinery Hill on the State Fairgrounds. But all was dark this week for opening night of the State Fair Crit, the beginning of its weekly run through mid-July that draws as many as 100 racers each week.
In all, the state cycling group has cancelled or postponed at least 10 races through the end of May, said president Jason Beck, and that has created challenges on the calendar downstream. The state championship for time trial racing is postponed with an eye on August, a month also filling quickly with mountain bike and triathlon events. Cyclocross revs up in late August and draws hundreds of riders, too.
Beck said state health guidelines of social distancing quickly quashed notions of any cycling.
“There kind of was a glimmer of hope in the beginning,” Beck said, “OK, we can do something. Then it was like, let’s push it off.”
Beck said the group’s cycling has the benefit of loyal promoters, such as Mike Delaney of Endurance Promotions, who organizes and officiates the State Fair race series year after year. Delaney said he is hoping racing can resume in June.
“The unknown is the toughest part of what we are experiecing,” he added. Delaney said he’ll miss the interaction with riders at the Crit. He’ll also miss the income generated from promoting races.
Lost with the pursuit of the podium and the energy of race day is the sense of community, Beck said.
“I show up, I race, and then I hang out with my grill, drink beer and talk to people,” said Beck of the fairgrounds action. To compensate and stay connected, he said, many have been connecting for “group” rides using their indoor trainers through Zoom, or hammering on training apps like Zwift.
On a different surface, the news for spring and early summer is equally grim. Riding over gravel backroads has a foothold across Minnesota, especially so in the southeast where some of the sport’s forebearers take on the rolling bluff land of the Driftless Area.
In the past five years, gravel riding has moved from niche to more mainstream, and a crop of new events has kept pace with public interest.
The Ragnarok 105 has been cranking since 2008. Set for April 18 this year, “the Rok” was circled on many calendars. Now 150 cyclists will make different plans. Race co-founder Isaac Giesen of Red Wing said the impact of pandemic has set the sport back 13 to 15 years.
“Back then it wasn’t a ‘thing’ and you would be riding with one or two other folks, if you weren’t on paved roads,” he said. “Hopefully people don’t take the lack of events as a reason to stop riding — staying home and quarantined is a much more valid reason — but instead allow themselves to explore new areas.”
To the far north, the Le Grand Du Nord gravel race in May, which would draw more than 600 riders to Grand Marais, was axed, too. Related races this summer and fall still are possible.
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