Several of the world’s most popular gran fondos have been rescheduled for late 2020, creating an end of season potentially jam-packed with events sure to draw thousands of eager amateur cyclists.
While nobody knows exactly when gran fondos will resume, expect promoters to start testing “new normal” social distancing formats in the coming months.
This is what they might look like.
Most importantly, race organizers will need to change their operations to account for coronavirus and new social distancing requirements, which experts say will be with us for a long, long time.
Events will need to allow more time and space for number pickup. For a 1000-person gran fondo, number pickup might occur over three days or only at assigned times for each participant. Maybe numbers will be mailed ahead of time? Bike expos and consumer trade shows normally running concurrently with number pick up will probably be discontinued.
Traditional mass starts with thousands of riders corralled shoulder-to-shoulder and nose-to-tail like cattle will be a thing of the past, especially with 2m (6ft) social distancing the new normal. We estimate that if a field of 1000 cyclists (small for European events) were to maintain a 2m distance, you would need 1km of two-lane road to stage everyone. For a big event like Letape du Tour with 14,000 riders they would need 14km. That’s a lot of asphalt.
Instead, organizers may opt for several small start waves, or a rolling start, in which riders would have, say, a one-hour window in which to start. These changes would allow a race of a few hundred people to be held even if gatherings of more than 50 people are banned, because each wave could be considered its own gathering.
Even when bigger start waves become possible, there is still a physical limit on the race size. After all, if you want to put on a 1000-person gran fondo in waves of 100, where do the other 900 cyclists safely wait while the first wave lines up to start?
It’s one thing to figure out how to keep cyclists a safe distance apart at the start. It’s another to do so throughout the race. We all form packs, we draft, we jump on the wheel of a passing rider to get a free ride forward. And, of course, the harder we ride, the more we breath, spit and eject snot rockets without regard to those around us. In the new pandemic world, all these things are dangerous and go against every social distancing norm.
Races may try new competitive formats, less Pro-like. Maybe it is more competing against yourself than trying beat the riders around you. It might take on a more Individual Time Trial format, or maybe even Team Time Trial format where teams of, say, 10 start together and race to the finish – without drafting off other teams. Just like we are all adapting our training routine to maintain social distancing, expect amateur gran fondo races to adapt and try new socially distant competitive formats.
What about food and drink aid stations?
Aid stations filled with weary cyclists bumping shoulders while reaching for a drink, sandwich or bananna is likely a thing of the past too. Events may even tell riders to carry their own water and snacks. If aid is offered it will probably require riders to que up (maintaining 2m gap) without offering places to congregate, sit or rest. That will certainly move riders way down in the results. So now is a good time to start practicing carrying your own sustenance on long rides…
At the finish, don’t expect post-race beer gardens or a festival-type atmosphere. Events and host towns will not want thousands of cyclists milling around swapping tall-tales about the race, drinking beer and socializing. Riders will likely be required to leave quickly after being handed a pre-package meal/drink and told to look unceremonious for awards and results online afterwards.
One thing is certain, gran fondo events will be different, very different in the new pandemic world.