Redding native and 57-year-old Wes Franks was the first man out on his bike to kick off the 35th annual Lemurian Classic at Swasey Recreational Area last Saturday.
It was just past 8 a.m. as Franks pedaled in the cool, misty conditions. The start to the Lemurian Classic was the first sign of any athletic competitions in Shasta County since March when the coronavirus ended high school sports throughout California.
“Mountain biking is my getaway,” Franks said.
The track was empty for Franks, who started his race alone instead of being packed with other racers and hearing the starting gun pop off.
It’s because the Lemurian Classic went to a self-timed socially distanced setup that will allow competitors two weeks to complete either the long, intermediate or short courses. The deadline to complete one of the three courses is Oct. 24.
Shasta County Public Health recommended organizers not have a massive race so as to prevent large gatherings and reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Redding Trails president Tony Lewis said.
A small return to normal
For Shasta County locals like Franks, the races are a small return to normalcy for an area that has been hit hard by the Zogg Fire and the pandemic. The Sept. 27 fire killed four people and destroyed more than 200 structures in the Igo-Ono area, while COVID-19 cases in Shasta County have exploded, nearly tripling since Sept. 1.
“You’ve got to look at what we’ve experienced over the past two months,” Franks said. “To be able to do this race digitally is a huge win. I didn’t even know this thing was even going to happen.”
Lewis explained that by using an app called Strava, cyclists are monitored for their location and progress on the course. A file is created after the race is completed and sent to tournament organizers to keep track of times.
“Management wise having the app is a little bit easier,” Lewis said. “Usually we have about 70 volunteers but right now there’s six of us in a group that’s gathering sponsorships and putting together the race packets. Logistically it’s made things much easier.”
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Although there isn’t a cash prize for this year’s race winners, Lewis said he was surprised at the number of bikers who registered given the current public health climate.
“We usually have 120 riders which is pretty typical and then we went digital, we had 20% of people who wanted their money back or just donated it to support the Trail Alliance,” Lewis said. “Since then we’ve had an increase in registration, and people who picked up their race packets told me they don’t like the big race feel and they get to put their best effort in on their own.”
Redding Trail Alliance presses on
The race has gathered 168 bikers and has brought back 52-year-old Todd Dodds. Dodds has raced the Lemurian Classic for over 20 years.
He credited the Redding Trail Alliance for coming up with a plan to keep this year’s race going.
“The fact that the Redding Trail Alliance kept this race going is incredible,” Dodds said. “People are starved to race right now. I’m really proud to be part of that. That’s the difference between our race and the races happening around the country. We are actually having one.”
In a year that has eliminated or postponed sports competitions throughout Shasta County, technology is helping keep the Lemurian Classic alive.
“If this happened five years ago we probably would’ve had to cancel it,” Lewis said.
Redding biker Aaron Dobson, 53, called the Lemurian Classic “a life saver.”
“With all of the things that are going on in the political world or the pandemic and the fires, to be able to get to build up a sweat and get to see the outside scenery gets my mind right,” Dobson said.
Ethan Hanson started working for the Redding Record Searchlight after four years with the Los Angeles Daily News as a freelancer. His coverage includes working the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, and writing about the St. Louis Rams’ move to Los Angeles with the Ventura County Star. He began his career as a play-by-play broadcaster for LA Pierce College from 2011-2017. Follow him on Twitter at @EthanAHanson_RS.