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One of gravel cycling’s most innovative races is postponing its 2021 edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
California’s Rock Cobbler — a race known for sending cyclists racing through a someone’s backyard and living room — will delay its February 13 date due to the surging number of COVID-19 cases the area surrounding the event’s Bakersfield, California course. Sam Ames, the event’s director, said he is looking to move the event back to April of this with dates to be announced later this month.
Should the region’s COVID numbers remain high through the spring, Ames said he will cancel the 2021 event outright.
“I didn’t want to have the ‘let’s see if we can get away with it’ attitude — I want to put on an event that everybody feels good about,” Ames said. “We’re going to hold out hope. If that doesn’t happen, we’d cancel and reboot for 2022.”
The race takes place in Kern County, which has reported 1,113 new COVID-19 cases in the last week, an 11 percent uptick from two weeks ago, according to The Los Angeles Times. Ames said he decided on the postponement after speaking to a contact in the county’s department of environmental health. While the county didn’t order him to postpone his event, Ames said the feedback he got convinced him he needed to act.
“The writing was on the wall — we’re at the 30-day mark and I didn’t want to delay making an announcement,” he said.
Race promoters and elite gravel racers alike are currently deciding how to proceed with the 2021 season, with groups organizing conference calls to discuss how best to proceed. Officials in the United States are currently in the early stages of distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19. Yet, there are specific regions of the country — California, for example — where surging infection rates have prompted stay-at-home orders and the cancelation of public gatherings.
The Rock Cobbler is one of the first mass-participant U.S. gravel races to announce the postponement of its 2021 date due to the pandemic. In 2021 COVID-19 forced many of gravel cycling’s biggest events to cancel, including the Belgian Waffle Ride’s San Diego race, Colorado’s SBT GRVL event, and Unbound Gravel, the race formerly known as DK.
A few events did proceed in 2020 — Belgian Waffle Ride held its inaugural event in Cedar City, Utah, with strict rules around mask-wearing and social distancing before and after the event.
Ames attended the Cedar City race, and said he contemplated instating similar rules around masks and social distancing as a way to proceed with his event. But the worsening COVID-19 situation in Kern County ultimately convinced him to delay.
“If the state and county were more safe, I’d have no problem doing it,” Ames said. “But when it’s not, it’s reckless, and I don’t want to do that.”