Nothing’s worse than sitting at home watching cyclocross races get canceled. Unfortunately for us Americans, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the past eight-ish months. If you’re tired of watching Europe get all the fun, there’s one race series that’s continuing on during the pandemic and attracting cyclocross pros and Worlds medalists.
Without Limits Productions in Colorado is currently holding the Shimano GRX Cyclocross Series and, with some of America’s biggest names in cyclocross attending (some debuting new teams and jerseys), this event is nothing to scoff at.
Although the U.S. is hitting all-time highs in COVID-19 cases, some racers want to race, some promoters need to promote, and Without Limits’ Lance Panigutti feels strongly it can all happen safely.
The company hosts events for triathletes, swimmers, runners and most importantly (well, for us), gravel bikers and cyclocrossers.
“Without Limits Productions was founded in 2007 with a simple goal in mind: to produce the type of events that our Without Limits Crew desires for themselves. Affordability and a laid back atmosphere, for beginners to elites, is the core of each and every production.” -Without Limits Productions
The idea of a race in the middle of a pandemic raises some questions, especially concerning the safety of racers—Nationals were shut down, why should this be any different? That’s why we reached out to Lance Panigutti, owner and race director of Without Limits Productions, to learn more about his races during this unusual time.
Read the full interview below.
Cyclocross Magazine: The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on this year’s cyclocross season. How has the pandemic affected your events?
Lance Panigutti: Back in early August, it wasn’t clear if we would be able to put on a single cyclocross event included in the six-race SHIMANO Cyclocross Series. Colorado state guidelines remained in PHASE II, “Safer at Home”, limiting total gathering size to 175 participants at a given time, and 25 athletes on a start line. Further complicating our planning was the fact that our 6 events had to undergo an additional review process in five different county health departments, all of which were operating under slightly different guidelines. Fortunately, we were able to adapt our event structure and received all needed approvals, but that also meant enforcing a very limited capacity. Typically, each SHIMANO Series event averages between 550 to 700 athletes. Under the new restrictions, we’ve been operating with 425 athletes over the course of an 8.5 hour race day. I apologize for being so technical with the first part of your question but really it came down to being ‘creative’ and finding a balance between racer experience and safety. We call our model ‘safe and responsible racing.’ The key was not only to adhere to the state guidelines but also to ensure the racing experience didn’t feel like a sterile military exercise.
CXM: What feedback have you received regarding your choice to hold the event during the pandemic?
LP: I’m biased, but I’ll always say the Colorado community is one of the most supportive I’ve experienced in the nation. Initially, I expected a little backlash, and even some questioning over our decision to move forward with the season. However, once athletes saw the changes and protective measures in place, the feedback from the community was very positive.
That doesn’t mean every state or community can simply take the same playbook and resume racing. In today’s climate, there’s truly no ‘one size fits all’ model. It takes a very close relationship with, not only your community permitting agencies but with your racing population as well to truly know what’s feasible. Our staff was confident the racing community would embrace all of the necessary changes but also took a certain measure of responsibility on their shoulders to self-police the environment and ensure we would have more races in the future under the established protocols.
CXM: Who are some of the big names who have shown up to your events?
LP: So far, the best surprise of the season has been sold out and stacked women’s elite fields. Clara Honsinger, Madigan Munro, Caroline Mani, and Michaela Thompson are just a few of the headliners we’ve seen this season. Typically, the women’s elite fields will average 15 racers, but we’ve consistently been lining up 25 of the best women in the country so far this year!
CXM: Have any racers relocated to Colorado for the races?
LP: I wouldn’t say we’ve experienced any racers fully relocating for the season, but there’s definitely been a handful of athletes traveling to visit family and friends. For our kick-off race, CYCLO-X Valmont, Clara Honsinger was in town training to escape the Oregon wildfires. The talent density, especially among the junior and U-23 athletes in Colorado is the best in the country, so without UCI races drawing athletes away, the competition level has been amazing. [Ed. note, Honsinger debuting her new team below]
CXM: Here in California, we’ve recently been experiencing wildfires that have made it difficult to engage in outdoor activities. Colorado has recently been facing a similar issue. How will this affect your events?
LP: Colorado has recently seen the outbreak of the CalWood Fire which is very close to Boulder, along with the East Troublesome Fire, and Cameron Peak Fire. It’s another challenge, especially to the overall permitting process, but we’re taking it week by week. It’s so weather dependent based on wind patterns. One day, we’ll experience ash falling on cars in downtown Boulder and the next day it’ll be blue-bird skies.
“One day, we’ll experience ash falling on cars in downtown Boulder and the next day it’ll be blue-bird skies.” -Panigutti
CXM: For any promoter still on the sidelines thinking about whether to have racing this season, what advice do you have?
LP: Turn off the news, every single channel. There’s no ‘one size fits all policy’ for a region or community, so try to best assess what’s feasible for your population from direct conversations and data from health departments. It seems the one consistent theme nationwide is a media narrative of fear, fear, fear. I’m not trying to underscore the severity of the situation, but with some responsible creativity, I’m confident additional races can resume. Let’s be honest, we’re not going to wake up one day in a COVID-free world. So, having those conversations now also opens up the door for how to best structure and move forward in 2021. My other advice is to talk with other event directors in different industries; music or endurance sports like running or triathlons. If we can’t collectively find a way to safely move forward, then a lot of companies currently treading water won’t have a chance to survive. My phone and email are always open to those with questions.
I want to say a big thank you to SHIMANO for their continued support. Without them as a partner, the series wouldn’t have been able to move forward under the category size restrictions. Also, thank you to all the racers and volunteers for embracing all the new protocols with enthusiasm!