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USA Cycling’s doctor doubtful for spring races: ‘My gut instinct is the fall can be fairly normal’

Dr. Michael Roshon, USA Cycling's chief medical officer, says U.S. races in March and April are unlikely to be safe from COVID-19.

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Like millions of Americans, Dr. Michael Roshon is keeping a close eye on regional COVID-19 infection rates and the national vaccination push.

Dr. Roshon, the chief of staff for the Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is also the chief medical officer for USA Cycling. In 2020, he helped author guidelines to help cycling races operate amidst the global pandemic. His suggestions for staggered starts, socially-distanced registration formats, and mandatory mask-wearing were used by the Pikes Peak Apex and other events that went ahead last year.

When reached by VeloNews, Dr. Roshon said that the current national COVID-19 situation would make it extremely risky to hold cycling races — specifically amateur, participant-driven events — in the coming weeks.

“If you have low community spread, and very few local cases, then you can do mandatory masks, starting [racers] in waves, and socially-distanced packet pickup and have a reasonable expectation of having a safe race — if you’re in an area where there’s low community spread,” Dr. Roshon said. “The problem is, I don’t know where that is right now. We’ve had such a rough couple of months that the spread right now is considerably higher than it was last summer almost everywhere. So, if you have an event in March or April, and it’s mass-start, it’s going to be really hard to do.”

Dr. Roshon said that, based on the estimated timeline for distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, event operators who have races later in the summer and early fall could conceivably operate safe events, provided that regional infection rates do, indeed, fall. Even those events, Dr. Roshon said, should follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, and create rules for social distancing and mask-wearing for all participants.

“My gut instinct right now is the fall — maybe even August and early September — can be fairly normal,” Dr. Roshon said. “It’s reasonable to predict that anyone who wants a vaccine could get it by the late summer, or so. I would say an event happening after that, you have a reasonable chance of being post-vaccine rollout, and as far as we can tell, there should be a much lower risk of transmission. You may need to do extra work to make sure people are vaccinated and get tested before coming to those events — and make sure there is distancing. Those events can probably go on normally.”

Dr. Roshon’s perspective comes amid a flurry of race cancelations and delays in the U.S. cycling scene by events that operate both independently and alongside USA Cycling. On Thursday the Epic Rides series announced the cancelation of three events for 2021: Whiskey Off-Road (April 23-25), Grand Junction Off-road (May 14-16), and Carson City Off-Road (June 25-27). Oklahoma’s The Mid South gravel race called off its March 14 race, instead launching a race-from-home event. California’s Rock Cobbler gravel race delayed its February date until April.

New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila, slated to run April 28 to May 2, has pushed its dates back to September 29 to October 3.

Even the Colorado Classic, slated to run in August, called off its 2021 edition.

Dr. Roshon’s predicted timeline places events in May, June, and July in a tricky position — if they proceed, they will do so without the majority of participants being vaccinated. Promoters of these events, he said, should keep a close eye on regional infection rates and seek guidance from local authorities and health care professionals.

Promoters of these races should also be mindful of whether their participants are coming from the local community, or traveling from other parts of the country to participate.

“The prediction is that by mid to late summer there will be more places with low community spread, so there’s a likelihood of doing an event,” Dr. Roshon said. “You can’t count on the vaccine saving you for an event in June or July. After that, the likelihood of more people being vaccinated gets higher and higher.”