Gravel bike racer Peter Stetina had a great ride on Sunday and was ready to celebrate a hard earned victory. He just won the world’s largest gravel bike race, the Belgian Waffle Ride, for a second time (2019, 2021) and yelled, “This is fun – now I get to have beers with 4,000 of my friends!” 

His thoughts were echoed by event organizer and lead partyer Michael Marckx who told the San Diego Union-Tribune about the after-race party, “It’s pretty fun to see 4,000 drunk cyclists all hugging and kissing each other.” 

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Unfortunately, the untimely 4000 rider mass gathering event held Sunday 18 July in San Diego County took place during an exponential surge of new COVID-19 Delta cases sweeping across California.  When the event was postponed in May 2021 due to unacceptable COVID-19 risk, San Diego County was experiencing an average of 154 new virus cases per day, but when the race rolled out on Sunday morning that key risk metric was over 200 new cases per day as reported by county public health officials.

The Belgian Waffle Ride and its legendary festivities went ahead as though the pandemic was over.

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While mass participation cycling events of similar size (3000-5000 participants) have taken place around the world this summer (Maratona dles Dolomites in Italy, Tour de Brisbane in Australia and Lapierre Gran Fondo Mont Ventoux in France), those events followed strict COVID-19 safety protocols, including participants providing proof of vaccination, wearing masks, social distancing and most importantly not drinking, hugging, eating, singing, and mingling in large groups. 

The Belgian Waffle Ride did not follow any of these standard COVID safety protocols endorsed by doctors and medical experts worldwide, nor were they required to by local or state governments.  

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Nonetheless, it seems irresponsible to hold a non-essential mass gathering bike ride without any COVID safety protocols when the new Delta variant is spreading rapidly, not only infecting unvaccinated people, but also the vaccinated. 

It is capitalism gone awry, putting profit over participant and public safety. 

Ahead of the event Marckx was all business, boasting to the San Diego Business Journal, “The economic impact is in the many millions… We sold out all of our host hotels as well as numerous other hotels in San Marcos for the weekend. So, that is a lot of room nights we are banking on. Of course, all the restaurants and local businesses reap the benefits.” 

Since June the World Health Organization has urged vaccinated people to continue wearing masks due to the Delta variant of COVID and avoid mass gathering events, “Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general.

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While Peter Stetina must be thrilled to Re-Pete his victory and party like it’s 2019 again, we may all end up repeating another year of COVID related restrictions, illness and death after spending the summer freewheeling about – as if the pandemic were over.

PHOTOS: Canyon USA/TagPrints

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