Gravel racers, it’s time to start training.
The organizers of Unbound Gravel, the world’s largest gravel race, plan to proceed with the June 4-6 event weekend in Emporia, Kansas. While riding 200 miles through eastern Kansas’ wide-open Flint Hills has always been an exercise in social distancing, race organizers are putting plenty of other mitigating infrastructure in place for the weekend.
Here are the latest updates from Emporia:
Fewer racers, more race days
When race organizers canceled last year’s edition, they offered riders a myriad of options for their entries. Riders could request a full refund, defer to 2021 or 2022, or donate their race entry to the Life Time Foundation.
According to Michelle Duffy, associate marketing director of Life Time, Unbound Gravel’s parent company, 63 percent of this year’s registrants are deferrals from 2020.
In recent years, the event has attracted around 4,000 riders who compete in six distances, from 25-miles to the 350-mile Unbound Gravel XL. This year, 2,500 riders are registered across disciplines.
In addition to greatly reducing the field of riders, Kristi Mohn, Life Time’s marketing manager, says that the race team has been working closely with the Lyon County Public Health Department to ensure that the race is compliant with all local and national COVID-19 safety measures.
One update from Emporia is that the race will likely see a mass start. While organizers had considered sending participants off in staggered wave starts, Mohn says that at this time, health officials are dissuading that method because of how time-consuming it is.
“They’ve said, ‘we want you to get to the start line, and then we want you out of here,'” Mohn said.
Instead of staggering riders in waves, the start area will be sectioned off in small grids that allow riders to maintain a safe distance from one another. This will spread the field a few blocks deep on Emporia’s Commercial Street.
Of course, face coverings will be mandatory at the start, finish, expo area, and packet pick-up.
Another change for 2021 is the addition of another day of racing. Typically, the junior, 25-, 50-, 100-, and 200-mile events all start and finish on Saturday with the XL racers heading out of town Friday afternoon. This year, the juniors and 25- and 50-mile racers will start on Friday morning to reduce numbers at Saturday’s start line.
As of March 17, around 8,000 residents of Lyon County, Kansas have received their full series of COVID-19 vaccines.
According to Lana Anstay, a public health RN in Emporia, that number changes daily, with between 500-950 receiving their first or second dose of vaccine through the county every day. Furthermore, she told VeloNews, other residents of Lyon County have received their vaccines through other outlets like pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, and other places of business.
On Monday Kansas’ Governor Laura Kelly announced that the state was moving to Phase 3 and 4 of Kansas’ COVID-19 vaccination plan on March 22. This makes people between ages 16 and 64 with a preexisting medical condition and other non-healthcare workers in critical infrastructure eligible for vaccination.
This new wave of vaccination eligibility extends to Unbound Gravel staff and volunteers.
“Starting next week our vaccination clinics will look very different,” Anstay says.
According to Mohn, another notable difference in downtown Emporia during event weekend will be in the layout of the event grounds. Normally, food and beverage vendors line the street where riders finish; Mohn says that this area will now be separate from the finish line.
“There will be no beer or food at the finish line, you’ll have to go behind where the expo is set up,” Mohn said. “We’ll have a big screen up so people can watch the finish.”
Mohn says that packet pick-up is the only indoor activity during race weekend, and hours have been extended so that participants can get their materials on both Thursday and Friday before the race. There will be no rider meetings or panel discussions around town as there have been in previous years.
And again, masks will be required in every public space.