With a spike in new COVID-19 cases across the country, USA Cycling’s hopes of holding national championship events this summer were dashed.
After months of organizers working diligently to come up with alternative dates, host cities and race formats, the nation’s governing body for cycling pulled the plug on seven national championship events Wednesday. That included mountain bike nationals, which originally were scheduled for July 6-12 at Winter Park.
“It makes sense and is understandable, especially given how much work has gone into it,” said Durango’s Christopher Blevins, the two-time defending short-track mountain bike national champion and 2021 Olympic hopeful. “There is a realization that we are not out of this at all, and we are barreling toward the virus being even worse in our country.
“I know how much USA Cycling has put in to make this happen, now with a very small events team scrambling to do everything they can to help cycling exist in these times. I feel like we should all appreciate the work USA Cycling has done. They’re the ones who fought to make it happen, but it’s a wise decision now to cancel things and look toward the fall and next year.”
In men’s mountain biking, Utah’s Keegan Swenson will wear the Stars and Stripes national championship jersey for another year in cross-country races. Chloe Woodruff of Arizona will do the same in pro women’s races.
That was good news for Swenson after he had not been able to represent in that jersey during races so far this year. Still, Swenson was conflicted when it came to his feelings Wednesday.
“It’s definitely a bummer. I wanted to race and actually earn the jersey again for next year, if that makes sense,” Swenson said. “At the same time, I haven’t gotten to race in it at all this year. So, both sides are OK.”
In an email to The Durango Herald, USA Cycling said an announcement about locations for 2021 national championships will come around Aug. 1.
Also canceled for 2020 are the amateur and professional road cycling national championships. Amateur nationals originally were slated for June 25-28 in Florida, while pro nationals had been set for June 18-21 in Tennessee. Both had previously been rescheduled for dates later in the year but have now been canceled.
“Obviously, all of us wanted it to happen,” said Durango’s Quinn Simmons, a three-time amateur national champion in road events and the 2019 junior road world champion who had hoped to make his professional debut this year. “Other countries have started to race again, and I thought that was a good sign for us, but obviously it’s a lot harder to have nationals in the U.S. than a country like Slovenia because of our size and the extra challenges that brings.
“I think, for me, the biggest disappointment is that one of my personal goals was to be the youngest person to win the road race national championship. I won’t have that chance now. Next year, I’ll be a 20-year-old. It was a small personal goal, and obviously we have to do what the government says. I’m just hoping everything happens that is scheduled in Europe this fall and we get to race some this year.”
Simmons’ younger brother, Colby, also aimed to win another amateur national title in his first year in the junior 17-18 age group. Last year, Colby Simmons claimed the junior 15-16 criterium national championship.
“I was grateful to win the road race as a 17-year-old and to get to wear the national championship jersey my whole second year as a junior,” Quinn Simmons said. “While we aren’t sure Colby would have won it, to not have a chance is tough because he won’t get a chance to wear that jersey next year. It also makes the selection for world championships interesting for the juniors. It’s hard to put on WorldTour stuff, and it’s even harder to put on lower-level races right now. I hope he gets a chance to race because he’s in great form, and it would be a bummer if he didn’t get to show that.”
The other canceled national championships are masters road, gran fondo and the elite, junior and masters track nationals.
USA Cycling had looked into various plans to still host national events. That included the idea of running mountain bike nationals in a time trial format instead of a mass start to try to accommodate social distancing guidelines among athletes.
“Throughout this time, we have worked to create alternative dates in the hopes that COVID-19 cases would decrease, sought alternative locations where needed and looked to modify our events in order to mitigate risk and meet local regulations and requirements,” USA Cycling said in a news release. “As we have gotten closer to decision dates, it has become clear that many of the challenges in conducting safe and fair nationals are insurmountable. In the end, we do not feel confident that we can ensure the safety of our participants, volunteers, staff and host communities.
“While we are seeing a return of local rides and races in some areas, nationals draw a large number of people from around the country. When combined with the challenges of obtaining local permissions and permits, having to heavily modify event formats, and facing financial concerns within both our organization and local organizing committees, we have had to make the very difficult decision...”
Because nationals events draw athletes from all 50 states, Blevins believed it would have been impossible to coordinate the event and still maintain a true national championship atmosphere if some athletes were unable to travel to one venue. Swenson said he was happy an alternate format was not pursued further, saying he would want it to be a proper cross-country race and not a time trial format.
“I think they tried everything they could,” Swenson said. “Obviously, it’s in their best interest to run the race, so I’m sure it was a last ditch thing to cancel it. In the end, I think it was the right call.”
Durango junior rider Riley Amos said he was devastated to hear there would not be a championships in his final year in the junior 17-18 category after he won the cross-country and short-track national titles in the age group a year ago.
For Durango’s Maddie Jo Robbins, a first year under-23 racer who won two junior 17-18 cross-country mountain bike national titles as well as one short-track championship, the announcement Wednesday served as a bit of relief.
“Of course, I would love for the race to happen. But it is nice now that we know for sure it isn’t happening instead of continuing to wait for a hypothetical date,” she said. “I think it was the right choice. It would be hard for them to create a safe event that would be nationally represented.”
Blevins and Simmons both hope to race in Europe this fall for respective world championships. Blevins will hope to get in a few World Cup events, while Simmons’ big goal is Paris-Roubaix on Oct. 25. That, of course, is dependent on those races happening as well as the ability of Americans to travel to Europe. Simmons believes travel restrictions could be lifted before he plans to return to Europe in August but said he should be allowed to travel to Europe as a worker even if restrictions are still in place.
For now, the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships scheduled for Oct. 15-18 at Purgatory Resort in Durango are unchanged. USA Cycling said it would communicate a decision about collegiate nationals again July 31.
Blevins, who is a student at California Polytechnic State University, said he would put on a Cal Poly jersey and return to his hometown of Durango to race if collegiate nationals happen. He also is hopeful for cyclo-cross nationals Dec. 8-13 in Illinois.
Robbins, who will race as a freshman for Fort Lewis College in Durango this fall, hopes to be part of the Skyhawks team hosting nationals in October. Still, she’s unsure of the future.
“I hope collegiate nationals goes off. But I also don’t see that having too high of a chance,” she said. “It’s so hard to get all those pieces together. But we will train in hope of it happening until it is canceled. If nothing else, we will all be stronger for next year.”