News

U.S. road races are not safe from COVID-19 danger says leader of cycling task force

Steve Brunner, chairman of the new group Cycling Events Task Force, believes traditional road races should be halted or greatly modified. Brunner's group has published a 15-page report for race directors on how to safely hold events during the era of COVID-19.

Traditional U.S. road cycling races should be called off or greatly modified says the chairman of a new task force that has created COVID-19 guidelines for race directors.

Steve Brunner, chairman of the Cycling Event Task Force and a marketing official with the Maryland Cycling Classic and Colorado Classic (and occasional velonews.com author) believes that the risks surrounding the spread of COVID-19 are too great at the moment for traditional road races to go forward unchanged.

“I would say that after everything [the Maryland Cycling Classic] went through, and looking at the Colorado Classic as the most recent example, the answer is ‘No,’ Brunner said. “I don’t see an issue with time trials, and I could even see some sort of mass-start [event], done in small waves of six or fewer. But you don’t want 50 to 100 people riding together for an extended period of time.”

Brunner’s conclusion comes after he and a group comprised of race directors, former and current riders, and other cycling officials spent 10 weeks writing a set of recommended guidelines for organizing cycling events during the age of COVID-19. The group, which includes Chris Aronhalt of Medalist Sports, Lucy Diaz of the Colorado Classic, riders Ben King, Kathryn Bertine, and Chris Horner, and Mike Weiss of Missouri’s Gateway Cup race (among others), consulted with doctors and medical professionals before drafting a 15-page report on event safety and organization.

You can access the report here for free.

Brunner said that other events, such as mountain bike races and gravel events, should be held with staggered starts to alleviate crowds on the trails. BMX events, Brunner said, may be the safest of the cycling disciplines, due to the quick nature of the events.

Still, when compared to other organized sports, cycling’s overall risk for spreading COVID-19 is comparatively low.

“We listened to the chief medical officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and he had three tiers of sports, and cycling was in the safest tier,” Brunner said.

The report is the latest document published by a sports organization to address bike racing under COVID-19. In June the UCI published a set of safety rules to govern pro cycling’s return from the pandemic shutdown, and USA Cycling worked with its medical director Dr. Michael Roshon to publish its own set of COVID-19 safety resources in late March.

Brunner said the Cycling Event Task Force’s guidelines are different. For one, the group that wrote them operate independently from official governing bodies.

“The task force was an agnostic group that came forward to help the sport, versus an organization which may have certain agendas,” Brunner said. “The essence and the vision of the whole thing is we all care about cycling and events, and we want other organizers taking this report and having a tool that they didn’t have before.”

Like the UCI guidelines, the Cycling Event Task Force recommends the hiring of a high-level medical official to oversee the event’s COVID-19 safety plan. The group recommends hiring a local doctor or medical professional who is familiar with the COVID-19 situation in the local region.

The group also suggests protocols that concern often overlooked elements of a race. The document offers advice for how to manage an event’s civic and commercial relationships, as well as its PR and marketing strategies and fan engagement over social media. It also focuses in on how to handle pro riders, many of whom may have traveled internationally to attend the event.

Each element of the race, such as PR and marketing, receives its own page with a list of recommendations.

While the UCI and USA Cycling documents focus on testing and rider health, they overlook a central element of bike racing during the age of COVID-19, Brunner said.

“Whether we should be holding events during COVID-19 at all,” Brunner said. “We need to be looking at what the public perception is going to be if we hold an event, knowing that it could cause more damage that good to a sponsor or a city.”