No weekend camping trips to races. No state championship event in Durango. The Colorado High School Cycling League has been forced to seek an alternative format for 2020.
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado’s branch of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), announced its five-event mountain bike schedule would not be held this fall season. Races were scheduled to begin the last weekend of August in Frisco and Leadville with stops this season in Eagle, Nathrop, Stemaboat Springs, Snowmass, Granby, Eagle and, finally, Oct. 11-12 in Durango for the state championships.
“The health and safety of our riders, families, staff, volunteers, partners and host communities is our number one priority. With this unwavering focus, it is clear that a viable race season is not possible or responsible,” Colorado League president Antonio Gallegos said in a statement. “Know that during the past (four) months, we have explored numerous options. We remained cautiously optimistic about a variety of formats that would reduce risks associated with the spread of COVID-19. After a thorough assessment of the possible scenarios, it is apparent that the social and financial costs to produce quality events that embody our mission significantly outweigh the benefits.”
Last season, 79 teams competed in the league, including teams from New Mexico and Wyoming. There were nearly 1,600 athletes helped by more than 750 coaches. The 2019 season, which marked the 10-year anniversary of the league, ended in Durango with the state championship event for the second consecutive year. In 2018, 822 riders competed at state, and that number was up to 843 last year.
The state championship event was a big economic boost for Durango during the October tourism shoulder season. It also served as an excellent recruiting tool for Fort Lewis College, which offered campus tours to the athletes and their families. The FLC cycling program was a big supporter of the state championships and used the opportunity to showcase its program and Durango’s rich cycling tradition.
Last year, Durango High School won its third consecutive Division 2 state championship, while several athletes from Animas High and Durango High either won state titles or finished on podiums.
“I’m pretty bummed about NICA being canceled,” said Durango senior Ruth Holcomb. “I’m definitely going to miss having states on our home course. I was hoping for one more chance to take a state title, and it would’ve been super special in my hometown.”
Instead of the regular season, the Colorado League will launch an alternate format for 2020. It will be a 12-week program featuring five different challenges athletes can complete individually. The league has named it “Singletrack Solidarity.”
“We remain committed to facilitating a gratifying league experience this fall,” executive director Kate Rau said in the news release. “The 12 weeks of ‘Singletrack Solidarity’ virtual challenges and contests will allow teams and individuals to be ranked, scored and celebrated for their efforts. Our team will certainly miss seeing all of you playing in the dirt.”
Rau encouraged team coaches to find ways to keep the teams together throughout the season in a hope participation numbers don’t dip in 2021. Athletes who participate in “Singletrack Solidarity” will pay the annual $75 membership fee and will be issued number plates. Holcomb said she would give this year’s program a chance.
While it won’t be the typical season in which relationship building and fun had before and after the races is more in focus than results at the finish line, the league hopes the one-year shakeup will keep athletes engaged and give them an outlet to challenge themselves on the bike.
“The thing I’m gonna miss most is the team,” Holcomb said. “I’ve made some of my best friends through NICA, and traveling and camping and cheering for everyone at the races is always a highlight.”