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Colorado Classic continuing with plans for 2020 race amid pandemic

The overall top three celebrate on stage 4 of the 2019 Colorado Classic
The overall top three celebrate on stage 4 of the 2019 Colorado Classic (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)

Despite the cancellation of events nationwide, the organisers of the Colorado Classic presented by VF Corporation continue to plan to hold the four-stage race from August 27-30. Preparing to hold a mass-start event while the coronavirus pandemic is not only not under control, but having a second surge in areas of the US has been a challenge, RMP Events CEO Lucy Diaz and her team remain committed to holding the race and supporting the women's peloton.

Stages are planned for Snowmass Village, Avon, Boulder and Denver, further complicating getting approval for holding the race. It has taken numerous video conferences and phone calls to coordinate with the governor of Colorado, the various municipalities and counties to organise the race in the time of COVID-19.

"We essentially are in four different counties with the race over the four consecutive days," Diaz tells Cyclingnews, explaining that each county can interpret the Governor's executive orders and file for variances as they see fit. "So essentially when we're trying to seek approval to move forward with our event in a safe and responsible manner, it's not just one conversation we have with one person. It is a very involved conversation at many different levels locally, within the state and within the counties, within the health department and police departments and all of that. So there are a lot of moving parts. It's definitely not for the faint of heart planning an event during COVID. At the same time, it's a testament to the community and the sport itself - every single community that we are working with have said it has never been a consideration to cancel the event."

"Everyone is rooting for this event to happen. And you know, we feel this strong sense of responsibility to do everything that we physically can and strategically can to make it happen, because it should be a celebration for the riders, for the community and for the industry as well. Particularly as USA Cycling had to cancel their Championships ... there is a lot of unfortunate news. So to be able to really try to drive for some positive news and some celebration is what keeps us going every day."

The Colorado Classic started as a men's stage race with a smaller women's event, but last year shifted to focus solely on bringing top-level women's racing to the heart of the state. It was a daring move that was successful last year, with Chloe Dygert (Twenty20) taking out the overall victory with a dominating performance. Diaz pointed to the progressive values of Colorado as one reason the women's-only race model has received so much backing.

"The support that we have from the community with our women's-only model has been amazing and to see the community rally around it is really great. I hope that the athletes do see the event is it's something to look forward to and it's a bright spot in a particularly hard year."

The race planned to bring in more international teams for 2020, but with the coronavirus restrictions causing havoc in travel, it is likely to be only a national or continental field this year and may end up not being UCI sanctioned.

"The reality of it is it will probably be more of a national race or even a North American race, but the travel restrictions are out of our control. It is an ever-evolving component to the event. We're still building this event, whether it's world-class, whether we can only have teams from the US or from North America or teams are able to come over from Europe. That makes no difference from an organizers perspective. It makes a difference to the riders but isn't a Colorado Classic light by any means."

The race has had to make some changes for 2020 - gone are the expos, fan zones and other related events that would be impossible to hold while social distancing requirements are in place - and that has forced a reimagining of what the event will look like.

"We took a deep dive into the budget and really thought about what was a need and what was a nice to have and tighten up," Diaz said. "It has led us to be more creative and ultimately I think it's been it's been a conversation that we've had a long time and in cycling is how do you make sustainable events? And if you're just dependent upon the corporate partners and state support, that's a tricky business model to navigate. So to be able to try new things and to do things differently and maybe not do things the way we've always done."

The Colorado Classic will once again have full live streaming of each stage with free access worldwide. The decision to try to make the live stream free was made to increase the exposure of the event. Removing all of the ancillary events around the race that would not be permitted under the pandemic restrictions allowed the organisers to fully focus on start to finish coverage of the race and making a quality product to distribute worldwide.

"It's kind of the opposite of what you see in many sports and it's not about exclusivity, it's about exposure and inclusivity," Diaz says. "The live stream is one of our most important foundational elements of the event and within women's racing there has been a struggle over the years - it's gotten a lot better - but our position is if you don't have streaming or you don't have coverage of the race, you're really not doing a service to the riders, you're not allowing them to deliver on their sponsorship commitments, to deliver to their fans and quite honestly have the opportunity to engage and to build notoriety for themselves. So that's always been a non-negotiable for us."

COVID safety

With practically no mass-start road racing happening in the US because of the pandemic, the Colorado Classic will be the first - and maybe only - major event to happen this summer in the US. Diaz and her team have been in constant communication with the governor's office and local health officials and have even partnered with an area laboratory to perform testing for the coronavirus at the race.

"We're creating a secure zone around the start-finish line and the team parking area so that only approved people can come in - the athletes, their support staff and then a specific number of staff and volunteers. Everyone that steps foot in that area will go through a screening process as well as be credentialed, so it is very tight.

"There will be no opportunity for spectators to come into that area. There are hundreds of miles of roads in between the start and finish line, so that is where our partnerships with the communities come in. We really have shifted our marketing strategy and communication strategy to dissuading spectators around the start and finish line and give ways that fans can safely engage with the event. Having the live stream is a great solution, but we understand the reality that people will be out. So we are working with the local municipalities to post signs and PSAs within the market on how to watch the race safely and responsibly and adhere to any sort of local health regulations."

Diaz expects to have COVID-19 testing for riders before the race as well as monitoring the peloton for any signs of an outbreak.

"We haven't nailed down exactly when the tests will happen, but we'll start the communication with the team directors 14 days out from the event and that's when the first screening starts and then two days out we will be doing testing within that time frame. From then, it's constant monitoring and screening on a daily basis," Diaz said.