The COVID-19 pandemic has affected cyclocross racers and fans alike. When the pandemic first struck, many of us were hoping for our 2020 cyclocross season to still take place. Now, the opposite seems true.
While many large-scale events have been canceled and some have been postponed, a small number is still slated to happen or not yet canceled—most notable of which being Cyclocross Nationals.
Along with the new tire width regulations, USA Cycling announced that there is still a prospect of Cyclocross Nationals occurring, albeit in a new location. Normally, this would be a good thing—why wouldn’t we want a cyclocross season? However, many of our readers felt that, given the state of the pandemic, especially in the US, the safety of racers and the general public would be at stake with an event of this size. Some even noticed that Iowa, the state where the event was being moved to, had the same group gathering risk profile and a higher percentage of COVID-19 victims than Chicago, where the event was originally going to take place.
Iowa recently was in the news for the wrong reasons due to its COVID-19 database backdating positive tests and lowering the positivity rate.
Two-thirds of our readers thought hosting the event would be unsafe, in our unscientific poll.
Rather than jumping to conclusions, we decided to reach out to USA Cycling to better understand their decision. Chuck Hodge and Tara McCarthy of USA Cycling shared some of the organization’s thinking about the event which might be illuminating for readers. See the full interview below.
Cyclocross Magazine: Times have been rough for everyone. How has USA Cycling been handling matters during the pandemic?
USA Cycling: Internally we have been forced to furlough several staff members throughout the departments. We are paying their health insurance while they are on furlough but they are not actively working. We have also faced salary cuts with existing staff and some cuts to programs. While painful, these actions are have allowed us to stabilize finances, maintain current operations, and have a solid footing to resume full operations post-COVID.
CXM: Why have you decided to continue an event of the magnitude of Cyclocross Nationals?
USAC: We need to be clear that we are not at all sure that Cyclocross Nationals will take place in 2020. We are at fault for not being clearer in announcing the venue move that we would only host the event if we could effectively mitigate risk to the participants, volunteers, staff and the local community.
If you look at our track record so far this year, you will see we have canceled every Nationals leading up to this point. Frankly, we had the necessary permissions and permits to hold several of these, but didn’t feel we could ensure the safety of the event. We will be applying these same criteria over the next couple of months to Cyclocross Nationals.
CXM: What was the rationale behind moving the event from Chicago to Iowa?
USAC: There was absolutely no path forward in Illinois. In addition to the restrictions, our Local Organizing Committee, which has been outstanding, has been heavily impacted by the pandemic and would not have been able to host us even if the event was allowed. [See our earlier coverage of Chicago and Illinois’ health restrictions and cancellations.]
CXM: Many other events have been canceled for this year. How feasible is it to have a championship when other states are unable to have local racing?
USAC: Within our decision-making process has been the concern of what the [competetive] landscape looked like, as well as whether people could travel. For example, the cancellation of many collegiate racing seasons at the conference level was one factor in the cancellation of our fall Collegiate Nationals for mountain biking and track racing. For cyclocross, we have addressed things like modifying callups and qualification criteria to remove pressure from people who are not able to race locally. When we make a final decision, one of the factors is our members’ ability to safely travel to the event.
CXM: What feedback have you received regarding your decision to try to have Cyclocross Nationals in Iowa City?
USAC: I think people reacted negatively due to the perception that we were a full “go” for the event in Iowa City in December—which is on us for not communicating more effectively. We are in full agreement with our partners in Iowa City that we will focus on a continual assessment of the conditions—including setting a date when we will consult and make our next decision on whether or not to move forward. Think Iowa City has been great, and completely understand and agree that nothing is guaranteed. They offered a path forward if conditions allowed the event and we took it.
CXM: In a recent Instagram post by us, we found that many of our followers felt it would be safer to cancel the event entirely. What is your response to this?
USAC: We felt it was too early to cancel before the season had started. As with our other Nationals, as we get closer we will continue to conduct assessments and make appropriate decisions. We anticipate the next decision point in early October.
CXM: Some of our followers have also mentioned that the decision to hold Cyclocross Nationals may have been one out of financial need. Obviously, money is important in running an organization as big as USA Cycling. What is your response to such assumptions?
USAC: The opposite is actually true. We anticipate that we would lose money this year if we hold the event. Cyclocross Nationals is normally a break-even event for USA Cycling, in a normal year, we return any overage back into the event to fund things like the live webstream. If we hold the event this year we anticipate an increase in costs for COVID-19 mitigation as well as a decrease in participation—we didn’t take these actions based on financial need.
“Cyclocross Nationals is normally a break-even event for USA Cycling, in a normal year, we return any overage back into the event to fund things like the live webstream.” -USA Cycling
Cyclocross Magazine: How much safer is Iowa compared to Chicago? What makes you confident that such a large, multi-day event would be safe in December when Jingle Cross feels unsafe having their smaller event in October?
USAC: As mentioned above, a variety of factors went into making a decision to move to Iowa City. If you look at the timeline in which Jingle Cross made their decision to cancel, we are looking at the same timeframe to make a decision for Nationals. Moving to Iowa City, when Illinois was not possible, left us with the option to continue planning in the case that the status of the pandemic allows for an event.
“Moving to Iowa City, when Illinois was not possible, left us with the option to continue planning in the case that the status of the pandemic allows for an event.” -USA Cycling
CXM: What actions will be taken to ensure the safety of racers participating in Cyclocross Nationals?
USAC: If we move forward we will implement many of the procedures outlined in our “Return to Riding and Racing” document—things like modified registration and increased sanitation practices. We have also discussed the possibility of testing for participants, which comes with its own issues and challenges. The best step we can take, and the one we have used all year, is to continue to monitor the status of the pandemic nationally and make a decision on overall safety and feasibility as we approach the event.
CXM: Thank you for the time and update!
USAC: Thank you!
Ed. note: USA Cycling also hosted a webinar on Returning to Riding and Racing back in May, which can be viewed below. Featured photo: Junior Men, 2019 Nationals, A. Yee.