Back To Racing (Maybe)


A year ago, we all expected to be back to our normal racing schedule by spring. Then, summer. Then, it was very clear that, even in the autumn of 2020, nothing would be back to normal.

That meant one of two things for almost every bike race and, indeed, event of the year. It would either be cancelled or made to offer something of a virtual option to take place at all. We weathered the storm, rode safely, and crossed out fingers that normal life, and bike racing as a part of it, would come back sooner rather than later.

As we hit the early season of 2021, there is a lot to be optimistic about, but plenty to be wary of as well. On the bright side, we have a robust and successful vaccination program in the United States which is ahead of pace. There is reason to hope that all of the American adults seeking a vaccine should be able to do so by July. We have improved treatments for those hospitalized, and we’ve restructured much of our daily lives to reduce the risk of transmission.

Still, we seem to be getting ahead of ourselves. In the weeks after numerous states reduced or eliminated their pandemic guidelines and restrictions, cases are already back on the rise. Europe, which has served as a tragic forecast for the case trends in the US a few weeks ahead, is entering a third wave of cases and lockdowns, some of which have already led to Paris-Nice being rerouted and almost assuring that there won’t be a Paris-Roubaix in April for the second year in a row.

For amateurs, races are facing a similar slew of wait-and-see communications as they await changes in local guidelines and COVID-19 measures, permits, and simply whether it is even responsible to hold any event with cases on the rise.

When we do go back to racing, what will it look like? USA Cycling boldly declared a “Back To Racing” campaign in March, offering race organizers a kit of resources designed to help take appropriate measures, evaluate risk, and better communicate with racers, sponsors, community partners, and officials throughout the organization process.

There are a few changes to watch for that will likely be standard practice in the months ahead.

Long Race Days. To reduce the number of people in attendance at any given time, expect different categories to have different start times, often separated by hours. This will reduce the mass of racers at registration, in the start chute, and milling around afterwards. This does put a huge strain on volunteers and timing companies, making for some marathon days. Maybe sure you say thanks to everyone involved!

No Podium. Or partying afterwards, for that matter. Expect to hit the line, grab a bag of goodies on your way, and hit the parking lot to clear out. While we’ll all miss reliving the action, this is still a good opportunity for organizers and sponsors to invest in to-go food and schwag, rather than investing in the normal post-race infrastructure.

Check The Mail (And Email). Day-of registration and packet pick-up are always a source of logjams and gobs of people. Many races will be working out new ways to distribute packets, including everything from mailing out number plates, encouraging people to print their own plates, or having a number of packet stations set-up across the venue broken down alphabetically. Registration will be exclusively online for most events to reduce the length of face-to-face interactions and exchanging money.

Very Different Starts. Most races will be able to stretch out the start times of their races, and they’ll also work to reduce the size of fields by breaking down waves into smaller age groups. More than a few events have already introduced multiple start lines, putting different waves apart to reduce the number of racers gathered together. This requires an additional start strip for chip timing, but it’s a good solution for larger events with enough room at the venue.

Of course, all of these measures can’t assure everyone that attending any event, of any size, is safe. Many racers will not be vaccinated but go home to spend time with families that may have elderly or at-risk loved ones. Everyone will have to make the right decision for themselves about the appropriate level of risk. Race organizers, too, need to put the health of the wider community in their consideration; certain factors like hospital capacity, vaccine access, and the local positivity rate should have vital roles in the decision-making process.

Are you ready to race? What measures do you find the most important in getting back to racing safely?