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Organizers of New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila have canceled the 2021 edition, as COVID-19 infections continue to soar across the state.
‘The entire state is red,” said race founder Jack Brennan said, the race’s founder speaking exclusively to VeloNews. “I’m bummed and I’m pissed that it’s not happening.”
After rescheduling the race from its normal time slot in late spring to the early fall, Brennan had remained optimistic that the 2022 edition could take place in its traditional home of Silver City. Like so many, he had hoped with the accessibility of the vaccines, by September the pandemic would be in our rearview mirror. Instead, mask mandates are being renewed and COVID-19 rates are soaring across the state, forcing Brennan to make a difficult decision.
“When I first changed the dates to where they are right now, I felt so good! It’s beautiful here in the fall,” he said. “We’re so green right now, the weather is so nice. No wind, mid-70 temperatures, the sky is beautiful — what great racing conditions! I was so exciting thinking it was going to be kick ass.”
When the Delta Variant began making headlines, Brennan went directly to the local medical community to better understand what the threat meant for Silver City and the Gila. He joined Mike McMillan of the Southwest Bone & Joint Institute, longtime sponsors of the race, in meeting with front-line workers and health department officials in the city in early August.
“At that point in time, the hospitals were doing fine,” Brennan said. “Grant County was doing fine. The state of New Mexico had a very low positivity rate. Then, in the last report period we went up, and then today we went to the highest level of transmission status for the state.”
The Tour of the Gila is the biggest event of the year in Silver City. The race consistently has a sizable economic impact on the community. Brennan had prepared, planning to follow the UCI protocols in having PCR tests and doing mask mandates in the UCI bubble of the race to keep the health and safety of the spectators, volunteers, and racers in the forefront.
“That’s why I told them, you’ve got to tell me where I’m at because this is who we are, our community – and thank God they were honest with me,” Brennan said. “I’m trying to be as transparent as I can, and that’s exactly what happened. I’m really pleased to be a part of Silver City and Grant County. I’ve been here 40+ years, I rely on my community to put our event on and I’m not going to betray them.”
The race had struggled for years with sponsorship woes, but had secured funding from the New Mexico Outdoor Recreational Department. Brennan is hoping to roll the funds over for 2022. The sponsorship was secured thanks to support from both New Mexico state representatives and state senators. Like many historic races, the Gila was founded to bring people in to experience what Silver City and Grant County is all about.
“We have an incredible place to live but we also have an incredible race. Thank God for our cycling community around the country and around the world,” Brennan said. “We’ve been able to let people know what we’re all about here in our community, via the Tour of the Gila.”
The organization leans heavily on the community to make the race happen each year. From host housing, to the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the state police and other local law enforcement, the community has come together to host the race for 34 years. Brennan is now pivoting to 2022 with hope that Covid will not impact the race for a third year in a row.
Brennan confirms the tentative date for the Gila’s return is at the end of April, beginning April 27 through May 1st.
“I know in my heart it’s the right decision,” Brennan said. “I certainly wanted to put this race on for the racers, for our community, but I’m not. It just can’t happen. I know it can’t happen but that doesn’t mean I can’t be pissed about it.”