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The world’s premier gravel race is pushing forward with its 2021 race date.
Organizers of Kansas’ Unbound Gravel — the event formerly known as DK — are still planning to hold the event on June 5, albeit with multiple new safety protocols aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
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“We know it’s going to look different,” said Kristi Mohn, the event’s marketing manager. “There are a number of athlete responsibilities for 2021 and we’re asking everyone to take part in the plan.”
Organizers plan to cap the number of entrants at 2,500 across the six different distances — the race’s lottery takes place on February 8. There will be no post-race party this year, and the traditional pre-race riders meeting will be held as a video conference call. Masks and social distancing will be required when riders are not racing their bicycles. And riders will be asked to spend as little time as possible at the checkpoints along the route.
Organizers are also considering sending participants in the 200-mile event off in staggered starts.
“Wave starts is something we’re considering — it’s a solution that further complicates our already long day,” said Lelan Dains, the event’s operator. “If that is something our leaders are suggesting we do, then we’ll do it. We have different strategies mapped out.”
The decision to push forward comes as event promoters across the country are deciding how to proceed in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple states have seen infections spike since the late fall, and vaccination numbers for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines continue to slowly increase. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest count says 18.5 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 3.2 million Americans having been fully vaccinated.
According to recent reports, Kansas has 151,249 residents who have been fully vaccinated — .8 percent of the state’s population.
A race’s spot on the 2021 calendar will likely impact how organizers plan to proceed. Oklahoma’s The Mid South gravel recently canceled its 2021 race on March 14 and instead launching a race-from-home event. California’s The Rock Cobbler pushed its February race back to April, and California’s Grasshopper Adventure Series pared its 2021 series down from seven to five events, and also pushed its traditional start from January back to March.
Other events have pushed forward with COVID-19 protocols. In October, Belgian Waffle Ride held its event in Cedar City, Utah, with new rules around mask-wearing and social distancing. Nearly 800 riders participated in the event.
Unbound Gravel originally postponed its 2020 event from May 30 to September 12, before announcing in early July that the event would be canceled for 2020 entirely.
Organizers said they have not ruled out the chances that the 2021 race will again be called off. They have set a final deadline of early May — approximately 30 days out from race day — to make the final call on the 2021 edition.
“We’re going to hold out as long as we possibly can — it’s more advantageous to wait,” Dains said. “We believe the situation can only improve with more vaccinations getting into the communities.”
They have also created a refund policy for participants based on the calendar. Riders who ask for a refund 90 days out or more will receive a 70 percent refund, with 60-89 days out receiving a 50-percent refund, and 30-59 days out receiving a 40 percent refund.
Dains said officials in Lyon County, Kansas, and the city of Emporia would have the final call on whether or not to proceed at that time.
“Our biggest impact is on Emporia and ultimately they take cues from the state government, so they have a process for how they are looking at the situation,” Dains said.